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2 miners who watched for Sago hazards commit suicide

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Two miners whose jobs included watching for safety hazards inside the Sago Mine before the deadly explosion in January committed suicide in the past month.

Neither man had been blamed in the disaster that killed 12 of their colleagues, and neither one's family has definitively linked the suicides to the accident. But those who knew the men say there is little doubt that the tragedy haunted them.

``I'm not sure anybody ever gets over it," said Vickie Boni, the former wife of one of them. ``You live with it every day."

Both men were working at the Sago Mine on the day of the blast and had been questioned by investigators along with dozens of other witnesses. One former co-worker said at least one of the men believed investigators were treating him as though he had done something wrong.

John Nelson Boni, whose job on the day of the disaster was to maintain water pumps, shot himself Saturday at his home in Volga, State Police said.

William Lee ``Flea" Chisolm, 47, the dispatcher responsible for monitoring carbon monoxide alarms and communicating with crews underground that morning, shot himself at his Belington home Aug. 29, authorities said yesterday.

State and federal mine safety agencies have not determined the cause of the Jan. 2 blast. But a spokeswoman for the agencies said that both men had been interviewed and that there had been no plans to talk with them again.

Mine owner International Coal Group has said it believes a lightning bolt somehow ignited methane gas that had accumulated naturally in a sealed-off section of the mine.

Boni, who was certified as a fireboss and occasionally conducted pre-shift inspections to ensure the safety of incoming crews, told investigators he had detected low levels of methane in that area five days earlier and reported his findings to a supervisor, who was not alarmed.

As for Chisolm, he told investigators that a carbon monoxide alarm had sounded about 20 minutes before the explosion. Following ICG procedure, he alerted a crew inside the mine and asked it to verify the alarm because the system had a history of malfunctions.

At a hearing in May, ICG executive Sam Kitts said miners are not required to evacuate when there is an alarm; they verify it, then decide how to proceed.

``Our thoughts and prayers go out to each of their families," ICG spokesman Ira Gamm said in a statement.

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