- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. (AP) — The 12 miners who died together beneath the West Virginia hills were remembered last night as men who loved their families, God, NASCAR and a good laugh.

“I’m sure there was a prayer meeting goin’ on in that ol’ coal mine the other evening like we’ve never seen before,” Pastor Wease Day told more than 1,800 people gathered at the memorial service at the West Virginia Wesleyan College chapel.

“I can hear Jim Bennett hollerin’, ‘Boys, you need the Lord in your life.’ And I can hear [George] Junior Hamner say, ‘Does anybody got any cards? Let’s play a round.’ I can hear them now,” said Mr. Day, whose Sago Baptist Church became the center for families and others who gathered to await word of their loved ones after an explosion in the Sago Mine.

Mr. Bennett, 61, and Mr. Hamner, 54, were among the 12 miners who died as a result of a Jan. 2 explosion as they reopened the mine after a holiday break. Investigators have yet to re-enter the mine to determine what went wrong. The blast killed one miner immediately and spread carbon monoxide that slowly killed the 11 others as they waited 260 feet below ground for rescue.

The only survivor, Randal McCloy Jr., 26, remained in a coma yesterday at West Virginia University’s Ruby Memorial Hospital.

A miner’s helmet sat atop the wooden cross outside the chapel yesterday. Some stopped beside a series of photographs of the Sago Mine victims, where they were encouraged to leave personal messages.

“God definitely has 12 more angels. God bless you all,” read one note, left beside the photo of Jesse L. Jones, 44.

David Blevins made the trip from his home in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to honor the miners. His own father had been among 13 miners killed in a 2001 mine explosion and fire in Alabama.

“We know exactly what they’re going through, what they’re feeling and what they will be feeling,” Mr. Blevins said. “Grief, agony and very angry. And I’m sure hate will go through their hearts. It will take time for that to heal.”

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