Thousands attend memorial service for Sago Mine victims
By Bob Weaver
Fifteen years ago the hoot owl shift at the Sago Mine was leaving work and the day shift was coming on.
Life changed in the blink of an eye.
A massive underground explosion killed 12 of 13 miners.
Families began the long vigil at the Sago Baptist Church, while mainstream TV media circled the village, creating such spectacles as announcing the miners had been found alive.
The lone survivor was Randall McCloy, Jr.
The miner's breathing devices failed.
Speculation from scanner traffic about the discovery of the men may have led to the quick assumptions the miners had been found alive.
Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera barged his way into the tiny Sago church, clinging to family members while he wept and wailed, believing them to be alive.
Since then, numerous investigations and Congressional hearings led to increased mine safety legislation.
New safety standards have been slow moving, with some now in place to protect deep miners.
Following the disaster, there was renewed awareness about shortcomings regarding mine safety and inspections and how coal companies, more often than not, fail to respond to citations.
Many mines had received hundreds of safety violations, most ignored.
Some standards passed by Congress in the wake of the explosion have happened, and more recent legislation in the US Senate was killed, a bill that would have closed loopholes that mining outfits use to wiggle around violations.
When coal companies get in trouble they generally bankrupt, leaving behind the scraps of earthen removal, and in many cases absconding on the payment of retirement and health care benefits to miners.
Massey Coal, not the owner of Sago, had accumulated over $2 billion in unpaid environmental and safety fines before it was sold, with enforcers playing a long-held
pretend game of holding the industry accountable.
The Sago company, not unlike other mine disasters, concluded it was an "act of God," related to a lightening strike.
It was apparent the enforcement of safety regulations were still on the back-burner with the latter Upper Big Branch mining disaster, where 29 miners died.
Massey had hundreds of safety violations directly related to their death, and now, former Massey CEO Don Blankenship was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge for their deaths, after ordering mine employees to cover-up and destroy records.
Federal regulators say the death of 29 miners at Upper Big Branch was "reckless disregard" by Massey in "a workplace culture that valued production over safety," and some officials were held accountable for numerous violations and lying about them.
The Buffalo Creek disaster that killed about 125 people was officially declared by state officials an an "act of God" in 2006.
God has always been busy acting upon or neglecting the people of West Virginia, while there is a "War on Coal" in Washington.
Virtually every West Virginia politician in Charleston and Washington continues to call for deregulation of the coal industry and what was called "Obama's War on Coal."
The Sago disaster was followed by a period of mourning for the victims and their families.
A memorable service was held in Buckhannon, slightly tainted by the appearance of the Westboro Baptist Church hate group who picketed the service, claiming miners deserved to die because they were "faggot lovers."
The Herald covered the disasters and the memorials.
IN THIS ANCIENT PLACE WE ARE NOT AFRAID - A Miner's Memorial
DAY OF HONOR, HOPE AND HEALING - Messages For Sago Mine Victims
KANSAS HATE GROUP AGITATES OBSERVERS - Miner's Memorial Service Not Disturbed
LEST WE FORGET - Sago Sound And Fury
MINES NO SAFER SINCE SAGO
POLITICIANS "WALKING TALL" AGAINST MINE SAFETY VIOLATIONS - Corporations Owe $35 Billion In Unpaid Fines
RANDAL MC CLOY'S LETTER TO VICTIMS OF SAGO - Some Air Packs Did Not Work
FEDS REDUCED MINING FINES TO A DRIBBLE - Labor Secretary Walks Out Of Capitol Hill Hearing