Karate, swimming, farming among interests of West Virginia coal mine blast victimsBy John Raby, AP
Saturday, April 10, 2010
W.Va. miners were varied in experience, interests
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — They ranged in age from 20 to 61. Some had been miners only a few months, others for 34 years.
Their passions ranged from karate, farming, swimming, hunting, basketball and the beach. Collectively they loved family and working at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Creek mine.
The 29 killed in the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970 leave behind sons and daughters, parents, grandchildren and a network of friends in their small, close-knit communities in southern West Virginia.
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.
Kenny Chapman was a roof bolter in the mines. His second job, it seemed, was making others laugh.
He’d have stories to tell about his hunting and four-wheeling excursions or his fishing trips to Indian Mills, Plum Orchard Lake or Burnsville Lake.
The 53-year-old Fairdale resident’s specialty was practical jokes.
“He always would be like he couldn’t hear you and he would come up and (grab) people or tell jokes that would always get a laugh,” said a nephew, Mike Chapman. “He was somebody that always had a good time.”
Chapman has a 13-year-old son, Mikey, with his wife and three children from a previous marriage.
“He was really close with his family and his brothers,” Mike Chapman said.
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 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 51-year-old 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. “He loved that place.”
William “Bob” Griffith
William “Bob” Griffith came from a family of miners, went into the mines as a young man with his father and worked there like his brothers.
“He learned from the best,” said Griffith’s brother, Mike, who explained how the trade was a family tradition.
William Griffith lived in Glen Rogers with his wife, Marlene, and raised a son and daughter, said James Griffith, another of the late miner’s brothers. When he wasn’t working, Griffith and his wife were fixing up their 1967 Camaro.
His nephew, Jason Griffith, remembered his uncle’s smile.
He was “always laughing, carrying on, joking,” Jason said.
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.
An avid outdoorsman, Rick Lane was content tending to his horses and cattle on a 25-acre farm in Cool Ridge.
Missy Schoolcraft, Lane’s cousin, said Lane always fed everyone else’s horses in the winter. And when she had a horse that was lame, Lane would take care of it on his farm.
“He had a heart of gold,” said Schoolcraft, whose husband was best friends with him for more than two decades. “He gave us so much.”
The 45-year-old Lane, a longwall production foreman, had been with parent company Massey for about four years and worked at the Upper Big Creek mine for about a year. He and his wife, Kim, have a 23-year-old son and a 9-month-old grandson.
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.”
When 25-year-old Josh Napper started his job in the mines a few months back, he showed his fiancee, Jennifer Ziegler, an envelope with a handwritten note inside.
“‘You keep it sealed until something happens to me,’” his mother, Pam Napper, recalled him saying.
Ziegler opened the envelope after last Monday’s explosion and rushed to West Virginia to show it to Pam Napper, who was gathered with other families awaiting word on the miners’ fate.
“‘I want you to read something,’” Pam Napper recalled Ziegler saying.
As soon as she opened the letter, “I knew it was his handwriting,” Pam Napper said. “Josh in his heart knew that something was going to happen.”
The letter was written to the couple’s 19-month-old daughter and the two women.
“If anything happens to me, I will be looking down from heaven,” his note read.
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.
Ricky Workman had an affection for wheels.
One of the first images on his MySpace page is a motorcycle. The 50-year-old Colcord resident loved his Harley Davidson and in the summer drove miniature race cars, said his niece, Tammy Cruz of Cleveland.
Workman’s MySpace page also listed watching dirt track races, fishing, hunting and spending time with family as his favorite activities. He and his wife, Annette, have three daughters and seven grandchildren.
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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