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Eleven years later, Sago mine disaster still haunts community

By MATTHEW BURDETTE

The Inter-Mountain

SAGO, W.Va.  — Eleven years ago, a dozen West Virginians lost their lives in one of the worst coal mining disasters in more than a generation.

Even though so much time has passed, the shadow of the loss of family members, friends and neighbors echoes through the years and touches many on the anniversary of the disaster.

These 12 miners lost their lives in the Sago Mine Disaster

Even though so much time has passed, the shadow of the loss of family members, friends and neighbors echoes through the years and touches many on the anniversary of the disaster.

On that fateful morning, 29 men — many of them veterans of the industry — entered the mine. Shortly after work began, an explosion ripped through ground, instantly killing one miner. Sixteen others managed to escape that morning, but 13 were left trapped more than 280 feet below the surface.

Over the next 48 hours, rescue attempts were mounted, but tragically were unsuccessful, with only one miner, Randal McCloy, being rescued. In their final moments on Earth, many left notes to family members that were meant to comfort those left behind in grief.

Although the grief remains, some tiny bit of solace can be had, as the disaster started a national dialogue that has truly made a difference in coal mines across the country.

Much has changed in the mining industry since, with millions of dollars being poured into new safety measures meant to prevent a repeat of the Sago disaster.

Early last summer, after years of effort, the community gathered in Philippi in the shadow of the community’s iconic covered bridge to dedicate a stone monument to those who gave the ultimate measure of devotion to a career they so loved.

“What I reflect back on is not only the tremendous sadness, but the incredible strength and resilience of the families and the spiritual leaders who helped us all during those very difficult hours of waiting and wanting to have better results,” U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said during the dedication. “This lasting memorial is going to be a physical reminder of the spiritual strength we have in our state.”

The miners who lost their lives in the Sago Mine Disaster include:

Tom Anderson, 39, of Rock Cave. Married to Lynda Hyre Anderson, he was the father of four sons, Caleb (deceased), Randy, Mitchell and Thomas Isaac.

Jerry Lee Groves, 56, of Cleveland, Webster County. Married to Deborah A. Groves, he was the father of a daughter, Shelly Rose.

James Bennett, 61, of Volga. Married to Lily Foster Bennett, he was the father of a daughter, Ann Merideth, and a son, John.

George Junior Hamner, 54, grew up on a farm near the site of the Sago Mine and owned a small cattle farm in Glady Fork. Married to Deborah Hamner, he was the father of a daughter, Sara Bailey.

Marty Bennett, 51, Buckhannon. Married to Judy Ann Lantz Bennett, he was the father of a son, Russell, who also worked at the Sago Mine.

Terry Helms, 50, Newburg, Preston County. The father of a daughter, Amber, and a son, Nick, from his previous marriage, he was engaged to be married to Virginia Moore.

Jesse L. Jones, 44, Pickens. He was the father of two daughters, Sarah and Katelyn.

Fred G. Ware, Jr., 59, Tallmansville. He was the father of a daughter, Peggy Cohen, and a son, Darrell.

David Lewis, 28, Thornton, Taylor County. Married to Samantha, father of three daughters, Kayla, Shelby and Kelsie.

Jackie Weaver, 51, Philippi. Married to Charlotte Poe Weaver, he was the father of a daughter, Rebecca, and a son, Justin.

Martin Toler Jr., 51, Flatwoods. Married to Mary Lou Toler, he was the father of a daughter, Courtney, and a son, Chris, who had worked with his father in another mine.

Marshall Winans, 50, Belington. Married to Pamela Pharis Winans, he was the father of three daughters, Tiffany, Mandy and Holly.

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