Union can take part in inquiry at Sago Mine

By wire services
Published January 27, 2006

ELKINS, W.Va. - Breaking an impasse that had briefly held up the investigation of the Sago Mine disaster, a federal judge ruled Thursday that officials with the United Mine Workers union can accompany state and federal investigators while they gather evidence underground.

Investigators ventured into the mine late in the afternoon - about 24 hours later than planned - to begin determining the cause of the Jan. 2 explosion that led to the deaths of 12 coal miners.

Also Thursday, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin signed into law new safety rules prompted by the Sago disaster and a coal mine fire Jan. 19 that killed two men. Among other things, mine companies must stockpile emergency oxygen canisters underground, and miners must wear electronic tracking devices that can be used to find them in an accident.

The sole survivor of the Sago Mine disaster was transferred Thursday to a rehabilitation hospital. Randal McCloy Jr., 26, remained in fair condition, doctors said. Although McCloy is no longer in a coma, he is still unable to speak.

Virginia lawmaker's gun discharges in office

RICHMOND, Va. - A Virginia lawmaker's handgun accidentally discharged in his Capitol Square office Thursday as he tried to unload it, sending a bullet zinging across the room before it was stopped by a bulletproof vest hanging on the door.

"That absorbed the entire thing," said House member John S. "Jack" Reid, a 63-year-old Republican who was both shaken and embarrassed by the incident.

He later took the rare step of apologizing to both the Democratic and Republican caucuses before Thursday's floor session, and then made another apology on the House floor.

Reid said he had taken the tiny automatic handgun out the breast pocket of his jacket and was ejecting the ammunition clip from its handle when it discharged.

Reid, a 16-year House member, received the vest last year as a gag gift from the sheriff of Henrico County, the Richmond suburb where he lives.

Elsewhere . . .

BANK STANDOFF: In Exeter, Calif., SWAT officers ended a 10 1/2-hour standoff by storming a bank Thursday and seizing a man who had taken eight hostages with what turned out to be a pellet gun, authorities said. Jess Martinez, 47, was being held on bank robbery and hostage-taking charges, according to police. No one was hurt in the incident.

HOSPITAL SHOOTING: In Hagerstown, Md., a hospitalized prisoner shot a corrections officer Thursday, hijacked a taxi and led police on a car chase before he was caught several miles away, authorities said. The 44-year-old guard, whose name was not released, was in critical condition.