- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The sole survivor of a mine explosion that killed 12 fellow miners emerged from a light coma yesterday but still cannot speak, his doctor said.

Randal McCloy Jr., who had been in a coma since his Jan. 4 rescue, is able to respond to simple commands and follow movements with his eyes, said Dr. Larry Roberts at Ruby Memorial Hospital. Mr. McCloy also is able to chew and swallow soft foods.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the Jan. 2 Sago mine explosion was delayed by a dispute over the union’s involvement in the inquiry.

Mr. McCloy, 26, of Simpson, may have suffered brain damage from the carbon monoxide exposure in the mine, where he was trapped for 41 hours, but the extent of the damage is not known.

Dr. Roberts said the miner, who remains in fair condition, continues to show slight neurological improvement each day.

Lara Ramsburg, spokesman for West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, said Mr. McCloy “continues to be a miracle, and the governor is extremely pleased with his progress.”

The cause of the accident remains under investigation, though plans to begin gathering evidence inside the mine fell apart yesterday when International Coal Group Inc. (ICG) refused to let members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) accompany state and federal investigators underground.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, which had recognized the union as the legal representative of several workers at the nonunion mine, went to U.S. District Court in Elkins seeking an order to grant the union access.

The hearing was scheduled to resume today.

The union’s involvement has been a point of contention for nearly two weeks. Nearly 70 percent of ICG’s miners are being represented not by the UMW but by three co-workers.

“Some of the Sago miners requested that the United Mine Workers be their representatives for the purposes of this investigation, and they have a right to be there,” said Ed Clair, associate solicitor for mine safety and health.

State and federal investigators had hoped to enter the mine yesterday. Hazardous levels of carbon monoxide and other gases had to be vented, and water had to be pumped out before investigators could get into the mine.

“No one went in,” said UMW spokesman Phil Smith. “And that’s, frankly, as it should be because if this is going to play out the right way — according to law and according to the wishes of the miners — then all the representatives of the miners should be there.”

A group of more than 90 miners not represented by the UMW issued a statement to the AP late yesterday that they do not want the union involved in the probe and will represent themselves. Group spokesman Craig Newsome denied the UMW’s contention that ICG was behind the petition.

The accident at Sago, followed by a fire that killed two miners at the Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 mine in Melville, has prompted calls for tougher mine-safety rules.

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