Sago Tragedy 14 Years Ago Today
January 2, 2020 - Fourteen years ago Thursday morning tragedy struck a Upshur County coal mine.
Shortly before 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 2, 2006, a methane ignition in a recently sealed area of the Sago Mine triggered an explosion that blew out those seals, sending smoke, dust, debris and carbon monoxide into the working sections of the mine. Investigators with the Mine Safety and Health Administration later determined a lightning strike was the ignition source.
One coal miner was killed the initial blast, 16 others escaped while 12 miners who could not get out put up a curtain and awaited rescue, as they’d been trained to do.
When mine rescuers made it to the trapped miners 41 hours later, all but Randall McCloy, who was 26 years old at the time, had died from carbon monoxide asphyxiation.
McCloy was pulled from the Sago Mine on Jan. 4 with kidney, lung, liver and heart damage and spent weeks in a coma in Morgantown where he was treated for severe brain injuries.
Randal McCloy, Jr. and his wife, Anna from a 2015 photo.
The Miners Killed
– Tom Anderson, 39, was a shuttle car operator on the Two Left section of the Sago Mine, moving coal from the area of the working face to the conveyor belt. He had 10 years in the mines. He lived in Rock Cave, Upshur County. Married to Lynda Hyre Anderson, he was the father of four sons, Caleb (deceased), Randy, Mitchell, and Thomas Isaac.
– Jerry Lee Groves, 56 was a roof bolter, with nearly 30 years of mining experience. He lived in Cleveland, Webster County. Married to Deborah A. Groves, he was the father of a daughter, Shelly Rose.
– James Bennett, 61, was a shuttle car operator with more than 25 years of mining experience. He lived in Volga, Barbour County. Married to Lily Foster Bennett, he was the father of a daughter, Ann Merideth, and a son, John. The eldest of the Two Left crew, he had been planning to retire in 2006.
– George Junior Hamner, 54, was a shuttle car operator, with 28 years of mining experience. He grew up on a farm near the site of the Sago Mine and owned a small cattle farm in Glady Fork, Upshur County. Married to Deborah Hamner, he was the father of a daughter, Sara Bailey.
– Marty Bennett, 51, was a continuous-miner operator, running the machine that cut coal from the face. He had 29 years of mining experience. He lived in Buckhannon, Upshur County. Married to Judy Ann Lantz Bennett, he was the father of a son, Russell, who also worked at the Sago Mine.
– Terry Helms, 50, was a fireboss and beltman. He had 29 years of mining experience. He lived in 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, was a roof bolter, with 16 years of mining experience. He lived in Pickens, Randolph County. He was the father of two daughters, Sarah and Katelyn. His brother, Owen, was the foreman of the One Left crew on the morning of January 2, and tried to reach Jesse after the explosion.
– Fred G. Ware, Jr., 59, was a continuous-miner operator, with 37 years of mining experience. He lived in Tallmansville, Upshur County, just across the river from the Sago Mine. He was the father of a daughter, Peggy Cohen, and a son, Darrell.
– David Lewis, 28, was a roof bolter, with about two years of mining experience. He lived in Thornton, Taylor County. Trained as a diesel mechanic, he went to work at Sago so that his wife, Samantha, could stay home with their three daughters, Kayla, Shelby, and Kelsie, while she completed a master’s degree in health care administration.
– Jackie Weaver, 51, was the section electrician on Two Left, with 26 years of mining experience. He lived in Philippi, Barbour County. Married to Charlotte Poe Weaver, he was the father of a daughter, Rebecca, and a son, Justin.
– Martin Toler, Jr., 51, was the section foreman on Two Left, with 32 years of mining experience. He lived in Flatwoods, Braxton County. 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, was a utility man and scoop operator, with 10 years of mining experience. He lived in Belington, the Talbott Community, Barbour County. Married to Pamela Pharis Winans, he was the father of three daughters, Tiffany, Mandy, and Holly.
A miscommunication was blamed for initial inaccurate reports to the surface that the 12 miners had all been found alive. Several hours passed before family members were told of the mistake.