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Killed by Grief?

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Neither man left a suicide note. But many people whose lives are linked to West Virginia’s Sago Mine believe that the explosion that took 12 miners’ lives last January recently claimed two more victims: John Boni, 63, who maintained water pumps, and William Chisolm, 47, a dispatcher, who both committed suicide. Chisolm shot himself to death on Aug. 29; Boni did the same on Sept. 23. “My husband was just completely and emotionally torn up,” says Boni’s wife, Vickie. “It killed him.”

Hints of the demons that haunted the two men emerged last winter during testimony before Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators. Chisolm, who had more than a decade of mining experience, said that 20 minutes before the explosion, he heard an alarm that suggested elevated levels of carbon monoxide; thinking the alarm was a malfunction, he did not stop crews from proceeding deeper into the mine. Boni, a 37-year veteran, testified that five days prior to the blast, he alerted his supervisor to a methane gas buildup in the mine but, Boni said, “I told him that there’s nothing to be alarmed about.” “He had a lot of survivor guilt,” says Vickie. “He felt there should’ve been something he could’ve done to save these people.”

Boni, whose father and two brothers also were miners, retired less than two weeks after the January explosion. Like some other surviving miners, Boni felt hostility directed at him by mine safety investigators and grief-stricken family members. Ron Grall, a member of Boni’s crew who escaped the mine with him that day, told the AP, [John] said he just had enough of it…. They acted like it was our fault, like we did it.” John Groves, whose brother Jerry died in the mine blast, feels true fault lies with the protracted investigation. “We still don’t know the cause of the explosion,” he says. “Without answers, it’s a burden on these men’s minds…. It’s just so sad.”