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1,800 gather to pay tribute to Sago miners

By wire services
Published January 16, 2006

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. - The 12 miners who died together beneath the West Virginia hills were remembered Sunday as men who loved their families, God, NASCAR and a good laugh.

"I'm sure there was a prayer meeting going on in that old coal mine the other evening like we've never seen before," Pastor Wease Day told more than 1,800 people gathered at the memorial service at the West Virginia Wesleyan College chapel.

"I can hear Jim Bennett hollering, "Boys, you need the Lord in your life.' And I can hear (George) Junior Hamner say, "Does anybody got any cards? Let's play a round.' I can hear them now," said Day, whose Sago Baptist Church became the center for families and others who gathered to await word of their loved ones after an explosion in the Sago Mine.

Bennett, 61, and Hamner, 54, were among the 12 miners who died after a Jan. 2 explosion as they reopened the mine after a holiday break.

The only survivor, Randal McCloy Jr., 26, remained in a coma Sunday at West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital.

McCloy's wife, Anna, attended the memorial service and was the first of the miners' families to light 13 candles of honor. First lady Gayle Manchin handed each family a statue of a coal miner.

"We cannot know the purpose of this tragedy," Gov. Joe Manchin said, "but I pledge to you we will determine the cause."

Rep. Ney steps aside as committee chairman

WASHINGTON - Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican implicated in a lobbying corruption investigation, said Sunday he will step aside temporarily as chairman of the House Administration Committee.

"Unfortunately it has become clear to me in recent days that the false allegations made against me have become a distraction to the important work of the House Republican Conference and the important work that remains ahead for the House Administration Committee," Ney said in a statement.

That was a reference to a scramble by Republicans in the House and Senate to come up with a new set of rules governing lobbying and travel as a way to inoculate themselves politically from the scandal unfolding around the guilty plea of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Democrats are offering their own plan this week.

Ney is at the center of the Justice Department's ongoing corruption probe and has been identified as the congressman referenced by Abramoff in his guilty plea earlier this month.

[Last modified January 16, 2006, 00:41:10]

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