Described by his mother as a "homebody," Cook had not yet married or had children. Instead, he lived with his parents on his grandfather's farm near Hyndman, Pa., helping to tend dairy cows.
Cook liked to ride four-wheelers and play pool. He didn't hunt or fish, but did study old firearms as a hobby, according to his mother, Gay Cook.
Cook had two younger sisters. "We were very close," his mother said.
For a while, Cook had worked away from home, installing highway signs, and then hauling steel on a big rig. He moved back to help with the farm, and had gotten a job at Mettiki about a month before he died.
'It looked pretty bad'
Shortly after midnight on Nov. 8, 2005, Savage Services foreman Robert Hovatter got a call from one of his truck drivers at Mettiki Coal.
"Anthony Guido contacted me on the company radio and said we had a truck overturned at turn seven, and it looked pretty bad," Hovatter said in a police statement.
Guido told police he arrived on the scene about a minute after the accident. Guido stopped his own truck, got out and checked to see if Cook was moving. Then, he returned to his truck to call for help.
In a report, State Police Trooper S.M. Durrah concluded that Cook's truck "entered a right-hand turn at an undetermined rate of speed, exited the roadway to the left, overturned and came to rest upright."
Durrah tried to get the West Virginia Public Service Commission to send someone out that night to investigate. The PSC refused.
A federal MSHA inspector apparently arrived sometime before Durrah left the scene at 7:30 a.m., the State Police report states.
MSHA officials never prepared an official chargeability report on Cook's death. The inspector who went to the scene apparently wrote a memo to Stricklin, who was then the agency's district manager in Morgantown. MSHA would not release a copy of the memo, and has never shared it with Cook's family.
Asked several weeks ago about the agency's decision not to count the death, MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said, "Although the road is owned and maintained by Mettiki, it is not connected to the mine property and, therefore, does not come under MSHA jurisdiction."
No state mine safety inspector responded to Cook's accident.
In response to the Gazette-Mail's initial inquiries, Caryn Gresham, a spokeswoman for mine safety office director Wooten, said the state, "did not investigate because this did not happen on bonded property."
At some point, MSHA called its sister agency, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but OSHA decided not to investigate either.
"It was not on a mine site," said Stan Elliott, director of OSHA's Charleston office. "It was out on the open highway."
Tony Oppegard, a longtime mine safety advocate from Kentucky, said the state and federal explanations just don't make sense.
"It's hard to understand why MSHA and the state would not investigate that," Oppegard said. "It's baffling."
Last week, officials from state and federal agencies admitted that their initial decisions were wrong.
"It looks like it was a mistake," MSHA's Stricklin said. "And we're going to try to correct it."
Wooten said state officials clearly should have counted Cook's death. Wooten said he was especially convinced by the fact that Mettiki opened a new mine, connected to the haul road, in West Virginia in 2004.
Even now that Cook's death is being counted, though, Wooten isn't certain how much of an investigation his agency can perform. The truck might be gone or have been repaired. Witnesses might no longer work at the operation or their memories might have faded.
Wooten said his agency will adopt the findings of the State Police report, but also try to gather some new information itself.
"Based on what looking we have done," Wooten said, "we don't feel that we can really verify the information we would have needed to do a real investigation."
'We do pretty well'
In an internal report, the trucking firm Savage Services blamed the accident on Cook. Company officials said Cook was driving too fast and became distracted.
Company investigators could not determine how Cook became distracted. He hadn't made or received any cell phone calls, and other drivers said there was no excessive radio chatter. Cook's lunch box was closed. The company pointed to a flashlight that was turned on inside the cab.
"The light itself is such that the on switch is recessed in the end of the light, which would make it difficult to be turned on inadvertently during the crash," the company report said.
In the months after Cook's death, a lawyer for the family hired an expert to inspect the truck. The expert found no problems with the truck, or with the road. The lawyer told Cook's parents they didn't have a case.
The Cooks still wonder, though. Chad had told his father, Blaine, there were problems with the truck's transmission.
Howard Goodman, a spokesman for Savage Services, said he could not recall a trucking accident where faulty equipment or maintenance by his company was to blame.
"We have a pretty good maintenance record and procedure and process," Goodman said. "I think we do pretty well."
Officials from Mettiki and its parent company, Alliance Resource Partners, did not return phone calls for this story.
Blaine Cook said the family is glad government officials are finally going to do something.
"Nothing will ever change what happened," Blaine said last week. "But this is going to help. I really want to know what happened."
Gay Cook said she and her husband were especially frustrated when they tried to get government officials to explain why their son's death wasn't investigated.
"Few of them ever called us back, and those who did said they couldn't help us," she said. "Somebody should have looked into this."