Manchin praises State Police efforts at Sago Mine disaster
As Gov. Joe Manchin swore in a new class of about three dozen State Police cadets Thursday, he told them how proud he was of troopers’ work at the mine disaster in Upshur County this week.
“I’ve witnessed firsthand in the last three days this State Police unit in action and their professionalism and courtesy,” Manchin said as he swore in the 56th State Police Cadet Class at the academy in Institute. “When the families needed comfort and a little space, it was the State Police that did it.”
About 2 a.m. Wednesday, coal company officials in Upshur County told State Police to tell clergy that initial reports that 12 miners were found alive might have been too optimistic.
State Police Superintendent Col. Dave Lemmon said he got a call from the rescue command center with that news. He relayed that message to about six troopers outside the church and went inside Sago Baptist Church to tell the minister.
Several other ministers were told, but the families weren’t.
Some people inside the church had heard a rumor that the miraculous news was not all true by the time International Coal Group CEO Ben Hatfield made his announcement that there was only one survivor, Lemmon said.
Lemmon said troopers had nothing to do with the miscommunication or the company’s failure to tell the families in person that they were getting conflicting reports after the supposedly miraculous news.
Gazette photographer M.K. McFarland said troopers told her and other members of the media to leave the church between 12:30 and 1 a.m. because some family members were complaining of their presence. Otherwise, they would be escorted out, troopers said.
Lemmon said he thought it was between 2:15 and 2:30 a.m. when troopers told the media that they had to leave the church and get behind the barricade several hundred yards away.
About 2:35, the families were told that only one survivor was found. One person inside the church became unruly, but no arrests were made, Lemmon said.
The cadets’ swearing-in ceremony was postponed a day because of the disaster.
Manchin told the cadets that troopers’ efforts to rid West Virginia of drugs is essential to improving the state’s work force and economy.
The cadets will be instructed for 30 weeks and will be ready to graduate as troopers sometime in August, Lt. Col. S.C. Tucker said.
To contact staff writer Dave Gustafson, use e-mail or call 348-5113.