The sole survivor of the Sago Mine disaster remained in a partial coma but showed signs of brain activity, doctors said Tuesday as mourners said farewell to the last two victims of West Virginia’s worst coal-mining accident in more than 35 years.
The funeral for 59-year-old Fred Ware was held at Sago Baptist Church in Tallmansville, followed by a pre-noon service for Terry Helms, 50, in Masontown. Funerals for the other 10 men killed were held Sunday and Monday.
There was no significant change Tuesday morning in the condition of Randal McCloy Jr., 26. He remained in critical condition at West Virginia University’s Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown with a fever of undetermined origin.
McCloy has yet to fully awaken from a medically induced coma, but doctors did not express concern. Dr. Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon, said it could be a lengthy process, which is likely to be gradual in nature.
“I think we have no clear clue of the extent of his injury or the time of his recovery,” Bailes said.
However, Bailes said tests showed a lot of activity on both sides of McCloy’s brain.
“It is probably too early for us to tell what that means, but it is very important to us that he has a lot of brain activity,” Bailes said.
Mourners came from as far away as New York for the morning service for Ware at Sago Baptist Church, the small church near the mine where families gathered to await word on the fate of the men trapped underground.
“As I talked to his miner friends, they’d say, ‘You know, Fred was always worried about someone else getting hurt,”’ the Rev. Wease Day said at the funeral for Ware, who was buried in a flannel shirt and a camouflage cap.
On Monday, authorities announced investigations were planned into both the Sago Mine disaster and overall national mining safety.
Among the issues to be probed will be the tragic miscommunication that led to the mistaken belief that 12 of the 13 miners had been rescued alive the day after the explosion trapped them Jan. 2.
“I am asking for that because I have witnessed firsthand the unbelievable human suffering that comes from miscommunication,” Gov. Joe Manchin said Monday.
Federal and state mine safety officials said they would hold joint public hearings into the disaster. Meanwhile, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said federal mine safety officials would be called to testify before a Senate subcommittee that would hold hearings beginning Jan. 19.
“It’s time for the decisions affecting America’s miners to be made with their best interests at heart,” Byrd said in a statement. “That should be the legacy of the Sago miners.”
Call for safety hearings
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also called for hearings into the specific issue of coal mine safety. He said Congress had not held a comprehensive oversight hearing of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration since 2001.
Also Monday, Manchin named J. Davitt McAteer, who oversaw the federal MSHA during the Clinton administration, to serve as his consultant, oversee the work of state and federal investigators, and issue a report on the disaster by July 1.
McAteer said legitimate questions exist about the number of citations at Sago Mine, which had 208 alleged violations of federal mine rules in 2005. The mine’s owner, International Coal Group Inc., has said it is working to correct the violations inherited from the mine’s former owner.
“We have made tremendous strides in this country in terms of production,” McAteer said. “We are in the 21st century in terms of the way we can produce the coal. We simply haven’t brought the health and safety aspects of mining into the 21st century.”
The disaster was the worst coal-mining accident in West Virginia since 1968, when 78 miners were killed in a mine explosion in Farmington. It was the worst in the nation since September 2001, when explosions at a mine in Brookwood, Ala., killed 13 people.