PAX, W.Va. -- Clay Mullins' body tells the tale of a life in the West Virginia coal mines.
A piece of metal once scraped the skin from his index finger while deep underground. The discolored area on his upper arm is from doctors taking a piece of skin to graft onto the finger.
A deep scar on his right leg runs from his shin to above the knee. He got it as a young miner in 1979, when part of a wall collapsed and trapped him.
While working on a mine roof, he heard a popping sound as he tried to bend a roof bolt. It was the sound of two discs in his back rupturing. After two surgeries, he rehabbed, got back into shape and went back to work in the mines.
But Clay hasn't worked in the mines since April 5. That's the day Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine exploded, killing 29 men.
Clay, 52, worked at Upper Big Branch, before taking another mining job. He knew all but two of the men who died that day. One of them was his 50-year-old brother, Rex.
It's the emotional, rather than the physical scars that keep him from going underground.
"I'm afraid we'd have methane and I'd panic or not be an asset, not be able to help," he said recently. "I just can't do it. I've came back from injuries and a lot of stuff, but nothing compares to this."
Since the disaster, Mullins has been one of the most vocal family members at meetings with investigation officials, peppering them with pointed questions about where the explosion occurred and how it happened.
He says that he and miner Gary Quarles, father of fallen miner Gary Quarles Jr., ask many of the questions because they've been miners and know what questions to ask.
Mullins puts much of the blame on Massey Energy Co., but believes state and federal officials also have to shoulder some of the responsibility.
"I think they're not answering a lot of questions because Massey's stand on the explosion is that MSHA [the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration] made them run a ventilation plan they didn't want to run," he said.
"Massey can't blame that on MSHA. It's any mine operator's job to provide a safe workplace. It's MSHA and the state's job to enforce and to make sure the plan meets the safety requirements."
Guilty for leaving
Mullins left his friends and brother behind at Upper Big Branch and took another mining job about three years before the disaster.
Rex told his brother that things went downhill at the mine after he left.
Upper Big Branch always had a lot of methane, Clay said. When he was there, Clay said, the mine also had a lot of older, experienced supervisors who knew how to handle it. Rex told him that when those supervisors started to retire, the replacements didn't have the experience the job deserved.
"I tried to get my brother and my best friends to go with me," Mullins said. "I think my brother would have came if he didn't have the injury on his arm."
Rex Mullins was working as the mine utility man, driving a scoop to get more supplies when he ran over a water line and the pipe whipped up and pinned him by the arm, severing his bicep. He had limited use of the arm and couldn't do much heavy lifting.
After that, Rex's job at Upper Big Branch was along the belt line, away from the longwall. The job didn't require much lifting and Rex knew that if he went to another company, he'd not get the same job.
Clay also tried to persuade Gary Quarles to go with him. He'd helped train Quarles when he started out on the crew, and the two had worked together for a number of years. He said he thought of the younger man like a son.
"They'd still be here today," he said, "but they'd feel guilty for leaving -- like me."
Too many funerals