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Expert: Mine air packs not fully used

Published May 5, 2006

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. - A mine safety expert said Thursday that air packs recovered from the Sago Mine had not been used to full capacity before trapped miners discarded them, provoking an angry response from victims' relatives.

Russell Bennett, whose father was one of the 11 miners who died from carbon monoxide poisoning during the 41 hours it took rescuers to reach them, said it's the job of federal investigators to find out why the air packs were not fully used.

"None of them was used up 100 percent, and that should tell you that ... that's unacceptable," Bennett said.

"And I agree with you," said the expert, John Urosek. "I think that's a question in all of our minds."

Urosek, a ventilation expert for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, testified on the third and final day of hearings into the Jan. 2 explosion.

He said the devices, known as self-rescuers, activated when the 12 men tried them, but tests revealed that the amount of chemicals used to create oxygen varied widely, from just 25 percent to 75 percent.

Only one miner, Randal McCloy Jr., was carried out of the mine alive. In a letter to the families of those killed, McCloy wrote that four of the air packs did not work and the crew was forced to share. The packs are designed to provide about an hour's worth of oxygen.

Neither MSHA nor state investigators have interviewed McCloy, who Urosek said is the key to questions surrounding the air packs.

Maryland murder trial begins for D.C. sniper

ROCKVILLE, Md. - John Allen Muhammad said Thursday he was only searching for his children when he and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested in Maryland in October 2002, denying that he and the young accomplice he called "son" were the Washington-area snipers.

Muhammad told jurors in opening statements at his trial for six Maryland killings that he and Malvo were shocked when a SWAT team pulled them from their car on Oct. 24, 2002, while they slept at a highway rest stop.

Inside the Chevrolet Caprice, authorities found a Bushmaster rifle that was linked through ballistics evidence to most of the 10 sniper murders and three woundings. A hole had been cut in the car's trunk, which authorities say was used to fire fatal shots at random victims.

Muhammad didn't cite specifics to show he and Malvo were innocent, but he urged jurors not to believe the prosecution's case that includes DNA evidence, multiple sightings of the pair near crime scenes, the gun and other items tying the pair to the shootings.

"The evidence is going to show you that John Allen Muhammad is innocent," said Muhammad, who is acting as his own lawyer. "The evidence is going to show you that my son, Lee Boyd Malvo is innocent. The evidence is going to show you a lot."

Muhammad, 45, has been sentenced to death for a Virginia sniper killing and Malvo, 21, faces life in prison. In Maryland, Muhammad is charged with shooting six people in Montgomery County, where the October 2002 shooting rampage began and ended.

Flash flooding, high winds kill at least 1 in Missouri

SLEEPER, Mo. - Stormy weather brought high winds and flash flooding to parts of Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, sweeping a van off a bridge and killing one of its passengers.

Areas of Tulsa flooded Thursday, knocking out power for about 9,000 homes and businesses, Public Service Co. of Oklahoma spokesman Stan Whiteford said. Fire officials in Broken Arrow reported rescuing people from at least two vehicles.

Northeastern Oklahoma was under a flash flood watch through Thursday night.

In Missouri, the van was carrying eight people Wednesday when it tried to drive across a concrete slab over a creek bed that normally has little water, said Jonathan Ayres, the Laclede County emergency management director.

[Last modified May 5, 2006, 08:50:10]

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