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Medical examiner says injuries killed driver, not a medical ailment

May 03, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A man who died April 25 while operating a large truck at a limestone quarry south of Martinsburg died from injuries he received when the vehicle plunged about 120 feet off a cliff to the pit's bottom, according to a state deputy chief medical examiner's findings.

A copy of the death certificate for Charles A. Wroe, 65, of Martinsburg obtained Wednesday indicates he was "unrestrained" in the truck and died within seconds after receiving the injuries. The certificate was signed April 26 by Hamada Mahmoud.

A preliminary report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration confirmed initial reports that Wroe was thrown from the cab of the vehicle, a 100-ton Caterpillar haul truck.

"The victim was fatally injured when the haul truck he was driving traveled over a berm and landed on the bench below," MSHA's Mike Hancher said in a report.

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Mahmoud's report appears to contradict evidence gathered by the investigating officers with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, who initially suspected a medical ailment caused Wroe to lose control of the truck. Deputies with the Sheriff's Department said they found no evidence indicating Wroe had braked, accelerated or turned the truck suddenly to avoid the berm.

Sheriff W. Randy Smith said Wednesday that one visible injury observed at the accident site also appeared to lend support to a natural cause of death.

"We have to go with what the medical examiner says," Smith said.

Mahmoud's report effectively continued MSHA's investigation of the accident, which happened at 2:45 p.m., Hancher said.

Wroe's death was the 10th fatality at a metal or nonmetal mine this year, according to the federal agency's Web site.

"MSHA's investigation into this accident is ongoing," spokesman Dirk Fillpot said. "And once the investigation concludes, we will make public a final report."

In an e-mail, Fillpot said MSHA's investigation team would examine the accident site, interview mine personnel and others with relevant information, review records and plans, and inspect any mining equipment that was involved in the accident.

"Findings and conclusions will be summarized in a formal report that will identify root causes of the accident and document how the incident unfolded. Any contributing violations of federal mine safety standards that may exist will also be cited at the conclusion of the investigation," he said in the e-mail.

Fillpot couldn't say when that report would be completed.

Caryn Gresham, spokesperson for the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety & Training, said the state's report on the accident was expected to be finished in a couple of weeks.

Marco Barbesta, ESSROC's director of communications, said he wasn't aware of the preliminary findings, but he did note that company procedures mandate the wearing of safety belts while operating equipment.

"We even have to wear a safety belt when we drive into a plant," Barbesta said.

Wroe's daughter, Kelly Wroe, said Wednesday that Gov. Joe Manchin spoke with her and her mother after the accident and offered his condolences and the support of his office.

"He told me if there are any snags (with the investigating agencies)... you call my office," Wroe said. "And I have been."

According to MSHA, the ESSROC Cement Corp. mine at 1826 S. Queen St. has been operated by Riverton Investment Group since August 2003 and controlled by Italcementi Spa. Italcementi is an international producer and distributor of cement based in Bergamo, Italy. ESSROC, based in Nazareth, Pa., is a member of the Italcementi Group.

At the time of the accident, MSHA said 168 employees at the ESSROC mine, 17 at the quarry and 151 at the plant.

Wroe had worked at the quarry for nearly 43 years, and Kelly Wroe said Wednesday that her father had no intention of retiring anytime soon.

Before 2003, the quarry was operated by Capitol Cement Corp., and Martin Marietta Cement operated the mine until March 1984, according to MSHA.

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