Relatives Given False Hope As Only One Miner Survives
Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images
People leave the Tallmansville church where they learned early Wednesday that only one coal miner survived the explosion in the Sago Mine.
updated 1/4/2006 2:56:57 PM ET 2006-01-04T19:56:57

Brief profiles on some of the 13 people who were trapped in an underground mine in Tallmansville, W.Va.:

Alva Martin Bennett
Alva Martin Bennett’s father was a coal miner and his only son also worked at the mine. As far as relatives knew, it was the only job “Marty” ever had.

“He loves it, that has been his life,” Marie Bonner said of her 50-year-old nephew.

Bennett’s brother-in-law, Roger Perry, was one of at least five miners who got out of the mine after the explosion.

“Marty was very knowledgeable and such a good worker he could do just about anything,” Bonner said.

Jim Bennett
Donald Marsh never understood how his half-brother, Jim Bennett, could stand to make a living underground.

“He wouldn’t quit,” Marsh said of Bennett, 61, of Philippi. “Hell, he loves the mines.”

Bennett, a coal miner for several decades, also was a religious man, relatives said.

“Everyday he would come home and pray for who was going in (the mines),” said his son-in-law Daniel Merideth.

Bennett didn’t talk about work much but had planned to retire this year.

“Right now he is probably in there witnessing to people,” Merideth said earlier. “He would be organizing and praying.”

Jerry Groves
Jerry Groves had been a coal miner for more than 30 years and followed in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and another brother, relatives said.

Groves, 57, of Cleveland, who had hopes of retiring soon, was married with two adult children, said his brother, Raymond.

“Times are pretty hard here in West Virginia,” Raymond Groves said. “(Mining) is about all you can do to make a living.”

Terry Helms
A coal miner for 35 years, Terry Helms would not let his 25-year-old son become a miner.

Nick Helms said his family never discussed what his father did for a living because “he never wanted us to worry.”

Helms, 50, of Newburg, who had worked at the Sago mine about six months, was a fire boss. He was the first one to enter the mine Monday morning for inspections, according to Helm’s sister, Judy Shakelford.

Virginia Moore described her fiance as an avid hunter, golfer and fisherman who never really expressed any fears about working in the mine.

“He didn’t talk too much about his work, he pretty much left it at the mine,” she said.

David Lewis
David Lewis started working in the mines 2½ years ago so he could be home at night with his three daughters while his wife, Samantha, worked on a master’s degree in health care administration.

Lewis, 28, of Philippi, had worked in the timber industry and construction but those jobs kept him away.

“This was a good way to make a living until we could find something different,” Samantha Lewis said. “It’s just a way of life. Unless you’re a coal miner or you have a college degree, you don’t make any money.”

Randal McCloy
The sole survivor, Randal McCloy, wanted to quit mining, his wife said.

“It was too dangerous,” said Anna McCloy, who met him in grade school. The couple has been together for 12 years.

Randal McCloy, 27, drives an hour each way from his home in Simpson to make money for his family — 4-year-old Randall Jr. and 1-year-old Isabel.

McCloy was a licensed electrician, but the money in the mines was just too good to pass up, family members said.

“You do what you’ve gotta do to take care of your family. Everything is a risk nowadays,” said his aunt Pat Miles.

Martin Toler
Martin Toler, a mine foreman, had worked in mines most of his life, relatives said.

The 50-year-old previously worked with his 29-year-old son in a different mine for about four years before Chris Toler was laid off.

“I am going to tell him to retire when he gets out,” Chris Toler said earlier.

Fred Ware Jr.
A coal miner for six years, Fred Ware Jr. always told his fiancee, Loretta Ables, he was going to die in the mines.

Ware, 59, an operator from Tallmansville, had previously broken his ankle in the mine when a rock fell off a rib.

Ables said she and Ware had been engaged about six years and were planning a Valentine’s Day wedding.

“He’s given me 35 gray hairs sitting here worrying myself over him,” she said earlier.

Ware had worked through the holidays except for Sunday and had considered taking Monday off too.

Also killed in Monday's mine explosion were Marshall Winans, 49, of Talbert, W.Va., and Jack Weaver, 52, of Philippi, W.Va.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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