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6 legislators named to Sago probe

Six state legislators will join a state investigation into the Sago Mine disaster, House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, and Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, announced Wednesday.

The committee will work under the guidance of Davitt McAteer, former head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. Gov. Joe Manchin appointed McAteer to lead the state’s investigation Monday.

The committee will not duplicate other investigations but try to learn from them, Kiss said.

“Basically, the Legislature wants to find out what went wrong at Sago and what we as a lawmaking body should do to minimize the chances of such a tragedy happening again,” he said.

The details of how the committee will operate and when it will meet are being worked out, said House spokeswoman Stacey Ruckle.

Tomblin said the six lawmakers would strengthen the investigation because of their skills and because they answer directly to voters.

“Not only do the committee members bring diverse backgrounds and professional experience to the inquiry, but they also will convey the concerns of their constituents,” he said.

The committee includes Delegates Mike Caputo, D-Marion; Eustace Frederick, D-Mercer; and Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur; and Sens. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall; Shirley Love, D-Fayette; and Don Caruth, R-Mercer.

Coal mining is part of each man’s life. Caputo started working in the mines at 19 and has been a United Mine Workers international representative since 1996.

“My sole interest is to get to the bottom of what caused this horrible tragedy, and to determine whether there is something this Legislature can do to prevent an accident like this from happening again,” Caputo said. “I am pleased that a committee of the Legislature will be at the table during this investigation, and I am honored to serve.”

Love is a veteran broadcaster who covered a similar disaster in 1966 — the Siltex mining accident in Mount Hope, where seven miners died.

He saw many of the same problems at Siltex and Sago, including rampant rumors that played havoc with families’ emotions.

“I’m especially concerned about communications relating to mine accidents,” he said.

Of any legislator, Hamilton is perhaps closest to the disaster. Not only does he represent the Sago area, he said he lost a close friend in the disaster, whom he declined to identify. His uncle died in a 1963 mining accident, he said.

“I can’t begin to express the loss my friends and constituents are experiencing,” Hamilton said. “As their representative, I have grieved along with each family member and loved one.

“I want this to be a very thorough examination. Everybody wants answers, and I think no stone should be left unturned,” said the Buckhannon insurance agent.

Frederick graduated with a degree in mining engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and has worked in the mining industry for close to 40 years. He specialized in the development of methodologies and equipment for safer, more efficient mining and degasification of mines. He also has been a consulting mining engineer during his 13 years of retirement.

Kessler chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which deals with state safety policies and regulations.

As a private attorney, a significant portion of Caruth’s practice has involved coal-mining accidents, some of which have resulted in fatalities, and he has experience with MSHA, as well as state mining regulations.

To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or call 357-4323.


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