Second West Virginia miner killed in underground fire buried

Monday, January 30, 2006

MAN, W.Va. -- Two coal trucks covered in black ribbons and wreaths led the funeral procession on Sunday for Don I. "Rizzle" Bragg, one of two West Virginia coal miners killed following a fire deep underground earlier this month.

The service was held at the Man High School field house because no other building in the southwestern small town could hold the several hundred mourners. Dozens of supporters held signs with messages such as "West Virginia loves our coal miners."

Bragg, 33, and Ellery "Elvis" Hatfield, 47, died after a belt line fire in Massey Energy's Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine on Jan. 19. Hatfield was buried Friday.

Their deaths came shortly after 12 other miners died as a result of a Jan. 2 explosion at International Coal Group's Sago Mine across the state. Only Randal McCloy Jr., 26, survived. He was transferred last week to a rehabilitation center in Morgantown, W.Va., where doctors say he continues to improve.

Dennis Compton, 44, who drove one of the trucks in the funeral procession, said Bragg and other miners had been concerned about safety ever since the Sago accident.

The two trucks were among at least 40 that were part of the procession. The others were parked along the route to the cemetery.

One of the organizers, Ginger Baker, 53, of Buffalo Creek, said this was a way to pay tribute to "an American hero."

"In West Virginia, we're all family," Baker said. "We know how firefighters and policemen honor their own and we feel our miners deserve to be honored in a similar way."

Mourner Bruce Holbrook, who left the mine last March for a better-paying job at another coal mine, said he doesn't blame Massey Energy for the death of his friends.

"It's just a way of life. It could happen where I work now. It could happen anywhere," he said. "The good Lord's going to take you when the good Lord's going to take you."

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