W.Va. coal mine victim’s note to family among stories of those killed in explosionBy John Raby, AP
Friday, April 9, 2010
Note for family among W.Va. mine victims’ stories
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Coal miner Josh Napper had a sick feeling something wasn’t right at his job, so he put his thoughts on paper, to those he loved the most before heading back to work.
It would be his last communication with them.
“If anything happens to me, I will be looking down from heaven,” his handwritten note read.
The 25-year-old Napper left it with his family in southeast Ohio, where he commuted to on weekends. Napper was among 29 people killed in an explosion at a West Virginia mine.
His mother, Pam Napper, didn’t find out about the note until after he returned to work at the Upper Big Branch mine on Monday, the day of the explosion.
“I just knew that Josh in his heart knew that something was going to happen,” Pam Napper said Friday.
He knew because his April 2 shift had ended about two hours early over ventilation concerns at the mine. He drove to Ohio to spend Easter with his family.
“I said, ‘Why aren’t you working?’” Pam Napper said. “He said, ‘Mom, the ventilation’s bad.’ And they sent him out of the mines. Everybody.”
She rushed to the mine site after the explosion. Also that day, his fiancee, Jennifer Ziegler, drove to West Virginia to show her the note written to his mom, 19-month-old daughter and fiancee.
“Dear Mommy and Jenna,” Pam Napper recalled. “If anything happens to me, I will be looking down from heaven. If you take care of my baby girl, watch over (her), tell her all the good things about her daddy. She was so cute and funny. She was my little peanut. And Jennifer, I know things have never been the greatest sometimes, but I just want you to know I love you and I care about you.”
Not all the dead have been identified. These are the stories of those who have been named so far, either by mine owner Massey Energy Co., the medical examiner or family members.
Carl Acord shared a big Easter dinner with family and doted on his infant grandsons, 9-month-old Chase and 3-month-old Cameron, said his sister Sherry Cline.
“He was looking forward to riding them around on the tractor this summer,” Cline said. “He kept talking about that at Easter dinner.”
Acord also enjoyed fishing with his two sons, 24-year-old Cody and 19-year-old Casey.
Even though he was about 6 feet tall, everyone called Acord “Pee Wee” — which he hated.
“That was his nickname since he was a little tyke. It just stuck,” Cline said.
Acord, 52, had worked in mines for 34 years and liked the work, Cline said. But he told his family on Sunday that he was concerned about the mine’s roof and worried about going to work Monday.
Jason Atkins was born and raised in Boone County, near the coal mine where he lost his life, said his father-in-law, Rick Withers.
The 25-year-old miner and his wife, Amanda, 28, met when they were students at West Virginia Tech and got married in 2008, Withers said.
Withers said he was not sure when Atkins began working at the mine.
“He was an hourly guy,” Withers said.
Atkins played second base on his high school and college baseball teams, but left West Virginia Tech without graduating, Withers said. He enjoyed golfing.
Robert E. Clark
Just a few months ago, Robert E. Clark, 41, came forward and committed himself as a born-again Christian at the Beckley Church of God, his pastor said.
The decision in January offered a degree of solace to Clark’s churchgoing friends. He leaves behind his wife, Melissa, and a young son.
“It really is a big relief to know that all is well with his soul, that he can go to heaven,” said the Rev. F.D. Sexton, who has spoken with Clark’s family since the explosion at the mine. Sexton said he remembered Clark’s big smile as the miner left an Easter service at the church.
“Everything was still good with him as far as his soul was concerned,” Sexton said.
Cory Davis played baseball in high school and followed his family into the mines.
The 20-year-old from Dawes, W.Va., worked with his father, Tommy Davis, and cousin Timmy Davis Jr. at a surface mine, but all three were laid off in the past two years. And all three ended up at Massey.
Cory Davis loved the outdoors and would often spend his weekends at a family camp on a mountaintop.
“We’d just run around, build a fire, ride four-wheelers,” Timmy Davis Jr. said. “Our life was kind of boring. We’re kind of hill folks. We stay up on the mountain.”
Timmy Davis Sr.
Timmy Davis Sr. loved coal mining — and when he wasn’t doing that, he was out hunting and fishing.
“My dad was the best hunter and fisher you’ve ever seen. The biggest buck or bear would come to him so he could shoot them,” said Timmy Davis Jr. “He’s got five or six in here. He’s killed a lot of big deer.”
Davis Jr. said his uncle Tommy Davis and brother Cody Davis also were at the mine at the time and survived the blast.
Cody Davis and his father were best friends, Davis Jr. said. Cody Davis was on his way in at the time of the blast, said Davis Jr., who works as a coal truck driver.
“He loved to work underground,” the younger Davis said of his father, who was from Cabin Creek, W.Va. “He loved that place.”
Steve Harrah — known to his co-workers as “Smiley” — was “always thoughtful and would give you a hand,” his father-in-law said.
The 40-year-old enjoyed hunting deer in Pocahontas County, said father-in-law Jack Bowden Jr., who also is director of the Raleigh County Emergency Operating Center. Harrah lived in Cool Ridge, W.Va., with his kindergarten-age son, Zach, and wife of 10 years, Tammy.
His sister, Betty Harrah, said other workers thought of her brother as a good boss.
“He wouldn’t ask them to do anything he wouldn’t get down in there and do,” she said.
“They went to the same high school, and they just knew each other and started dating,” said Bowden, who choked up as he spoke. “It’s pretty rough.”
Harrah was leaving the mine when the explosion happened. The mining company told the family that Harrah was killed instantly, Bowden said.
William R. Lynch
William Roosevelt Lynch wore many hats, including that of a coal miner.
Over his career, the 59-year-old who went by Roosevelt was a teacher, coached three sports and was about to welcome his fourth grandchild into the world. He also worked in the mines for more than 30 years.
Lynch was among the dead, said his brother, Melvin Lynch of Mount Hope, who also was in the mine at the time.
Roosevelt Lynch was a longtime Oak Hill resident who coached basketball, football and track and taught on the high school and middle school levels.
“A lot of people around town called him coach,” Melvin Lynch said. “He would substitute teach, then coach and then work in the mines. He used to have that rigorous schedule.”
Oak Hill High basketball coach Fred Ferri said Roosevelt Lynch also competed in a summer basketball league in Beckley.
“He was in excellent condition,” Ferri said. “He played last summer. He’s out there running with kids. Roosevelt was a heck of an athlete.”
Howard “Boone” Payne
Howard “Boone” Payne was a “gentle giant” in his early 50s with flaming red hair and broad shoulders.
“He would go out of his way to help someone,” said his brother-in-law, Terry Wright of Roanoke, Va. “He loved to have fun. He was quiet and loved his family.”
Payne began working as a coal miner shortly after graduating high school in 1977. He had worked for Massey Energy for eight to 10 years. Massey told Payne’s wife, Debra, about his death at 2 a.m. Tuesday, Wright said.
Wright said Payne never expressed any fears about his profession. As a former coal miner, himself, Wright understands why.
“You know any mistake may be the last day of your life. You know any day you work may be your last. But you just can’t think about that. You can’t stay in mining and think about that.”
Gary Quarles’ life was consumed by his wife and two children.
The 33-year-old from Naoma, W.Va., took trips every summer to Myrtle Beach, S.C., with the kids, ages 9 and 11, as well as his wife. The family often went fishing along the New River there.
“He liked to hunt and spend time with his kids,” Janice Quarles said. “That was about it. That’s all he did.”
He liked to hunt everything from raccoons and deer to wild boar, and he had wanted to stay home from work Monday because his children were still on Easter break, she said.
Janice Quarles said her husband was a quiet, laid-back man nicknamed “Spanky.” She was told of his death by a Massey official.
Gary Quarles started coal mining when he was 18. He was among those finishing a 10.5-hour shift when the explosion happened, his wife said.
Deward Scott met his wife, Crissie, when she was his karate student. The pair loved to go hunting together — Deward Scott taught her to bow hunt when they first met nearly 20 years ago, she said.
They’ve been together ever since — usually enjoying the outdoors hiking, hunting, fishing or gardening. The 58-year-old Montcoal resident had been a miner for 21 years and loved his job. But he also was kind and outgoing, Crissie Scott said.
“He was a Christian man who loved to help people,” Crissie Scott said, her voice choking. “He’s one of those people that once you met him, you wouldn’t forget him.”
Benny R. Willingham
For Benny Willingham, retirement was just five weeks away.
The 61-year-old from Corinne, W.Va., had been a coal miner for 30 years and spent the last 17 working for Massey, said his sister-in-law, Sheila Prillaman. Willingham and his wife were supposed to go on a cruise next month to the Virgin Islands.
“Benny was the type — he probably wouldn’t have stayed retired long,” Prillaman said. “He wasn’t much of a homebody.”
Willingham was remembered at his funeral as a generous and religious man who had recently given a stranger his used car. He was known for other random acts of kindness, like filling up a gas tank or giving away $10.
Associated Press writers contributing to this report were Greg Bluestein in Mount Hope, W.Va., Vicki Smith in Montcoal, W.Va., Dorothy Abernathy in Charleston, and Kate Brumback and Ray Henry in Atlanta.
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