Lightning remained a valid theory as authorities speculated Thursday on the source of the Sago Mine disaster, but Sen. Don Caruth wasn’t convinced to the point of totally accepting that as the cause.

In fact, Caruth, R-Mercer, part of a six-member legislative panel digging into the Jan. 2 tragedy that left a dozen workers dead, says the Legislature needs to keep plowing through evidence.

As a three-day hearing wrapped up, officials considered two leading theories — lightning touched off the underground explosion, or a roof fall itself triggered the blast in the sealed-off part of the non-union mine.

Buttressing the lightning theory were two validated strikes within a 2-mile area, the defaulting of a methane sensor underground and seismographic evidence in Morgantown that showed significant activity in that area — all at the same time.

“A lot of people, particularly miners’ families, don’t want to believe lightning caused it, or don’t seem to accept that theory,” Caruth said.

“I think that perhaps they view it as an excuse. But it’s the only theory really that’s been advanced.”

Caruth said he hasn’t decided what to believe but added, “I think the coincidence of those three events strongly suggest that lightning had to play a factor in the initial spark.”

The senator feels the special panel will open its separate work on the disaster, likely discussing its plans when lawmakers return May 21 to begin monthly interims.

“It’s ongoing,” he said of the investigation. “We’re still looking at whether a roof fall in this area caused the spark. The legislative panel is going to meet and try to digest all this information.

“Our focus at this point, of course, is to determine what happened.”

Another goal is to decide if some changes are needed in state mine safety laws to address concerns that emerged at the hearings in Upshur County.

When the panel meets again, it’s unlikely that witnesses will be called to testify, but rather the work will entail a thorough examination of what already has been outlined, Caruth said.

“Everybody seems to agree that there is no contrary evidence that the explosion did occur in the sealed-off section of the mine that no longer was being worked,” he said.

Yet, the trigger remains elusive, he said, adding, “I don’t think anybody has fully explained what caused it.”

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