- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

Some of the 12 coal miners who died in the Sago Mine disaster left farewell notes assuring their loved ones that their final hours trapped underground were not spent in agony.

“Tell all I see them on the other side,” read the scrawled note found with the body of 51-year-old mine foreman Martin Toler Jr. “It wasn’t bad. I just went to sleep. I love you Jr.”

Mr. Toler’s brother, Tom, said yesterday that the note was “written very lightly and very loosely” in block letters on the back of an insurance application form.

“I took it to mean that it was written in the final stages,” he said. “I’d call it more or less scribbling.”

The miners died after an explosion that rocked the mine Monday morning. Eleven of the victims were discovered nearly 42 hours after the blast. The 12th victim was thought to have been killed by the blast. Autopsies were under way yesterday, and officials would not comment on the cause of death or how long the men might have survived. The first of the funerals for the miners are set to begin tomorrow.

No note was found on the body of 59-year-old machine operator Fred Ware Jr., but daughter Peggy Cohen said she and other relatives who went to identify bodies at a temporary morgue were told by the medical examiner that some of the men wrote letters with a similar message, “Your dad didn’t suffer.”

Miss Cohen said that when she saw her father’s body, she gently opened his eyelids because she wanted to look at his blue eyes one last time. She said her father had the peaceful look of someone who died from carbon monoxide, and the only mark on his body was a bruise on his chest.

“It comforts me to know he didn’t suffer, and he wasn’t bruised or crushed,” Miss Cohen said. “I didn’t need a note. I think I needed to visualize and see him.”

The sole survivor, 26-year-old Randal McCloy Jr., remained in a coma yesterday, struggling with the effects of oxygen deprivation to his vital organs.

“We do believe there has been some injury at this point to the brain,” said Dr. John Prescott of West Virginia University hospital.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr. McCloy was moved to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh for hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

He will receive two 90-minute treatments a day for at least three days to remove any remaining amount of carbon monoxide from his body and “hopefully limit any injury and hasten his recovery,” said Dr. Richard Shannon, who leads the team treating the miner at Allegheny.

Mr. McCloy was “in stable condition, but remains critically ill as a result of the carbon-monoxide poisoning that he suffered,” Dr. Shannon said, adding that Mr. McCloy had been sedated and was undergoing his first treatment.

While prayers went out for Mr. McCloy’s recovery, people in the streets and stores of Buckhannon, the nearest sizable town to the mine, said that they accepted that mining was dangerous and that it was important to focus on the future rather than the past.

“I’m not angry,” said Jim Gregory, a firefighter who knew three of the victims. “That’s not going to fix anything. We need closure.”

Many businesses altered their window signs to reflect the changing realities of the tragedy.

Outside the town’s doughnut shop, a sign that had urged people to “Pray for our miners” by Wednesday evening said simply: “Just one miracle” — a reference to Mr. McCloy.

By yesterday, the town’s doughnut shop had changed its sign once more, this time reading: “Healing is hard.”

Jacqueline Spangler, an assistant in the store, put up the signs after her uncle, Alva Martin Bennett, died in the mine.

Jim Campbell, a customer at the doughnut shop, said the miners would go back to work because there was no other option.

“They have done it all their lives — it’s all they know,” he said.

Meanwhile, federal and state investigators were at the mine yesterday, seeking the cause of the explosion and a more detailed explanation for the miscommunication among rescuers that had relatives thinking for three hours that 12 of the miners had survived.

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