HUNTINGTON Steve Allred finally has a special place to go near the sealed Crandall Canyon Mine where his brother, Kerry Allred, was entombed in a collapse one year ago.
"It's amazing," Allred said about a new monument dedicated Wednesday at the mine. "It's helping me."
But moving on has been hard.
"I'll never have closure, never," said Allred, a miner for 27 years. He visited the monument with his wife Ginger. "Now I've got some place to go and feel like I can talk to my brother in a respectful way."
Families of the nine victims in last year's collapses at the mine were given their first official look at a monument that
features six headstones for the men trapped in the massive Aug. 6 collapse that University of Utah seismologists said registered as a 3.9 magnitude event. The headstones bear etchings of the miners' faces and messages from loved ones.
Amid a wooded area with pines and aspens, three benches are set across from the headstones to memorialize the three workers who died Aug. 16 while trying to rescue the other men. On Wednesday people left dozens of flowers and mementos that included a figurine of a miner at rest and, at one headstone, a bottle of beer. The monument, located at the mine off of state Route-31, is now open to the public.
Allred said he'll come back often to be near his brother.
"I'm still waiting for a phone call from him and for him to come walking through the door," Allred said. "It's really tough."
For Allred, anger still surfaces over his brother's death and casting blame and harsh words come all too easily for those who he feels are responsible. Being able to move on, he said, will be difficult to do while lawsuits, whose plaintiffs include his brother's wife, linger.
Attorney Edward Havas was among those who visited the monument. His firm, having been successful in settling other mining-related cases, now represents several family members of Crandall Canyon victims. Havas said efforts are ongoing to work with defense lawyers.
"As you might imagine, there was quite a lot of emotion," Havas said about watching family members during his visit. "It's a very difficult day for all of them."
Havas praised UtahAmerican Energy, a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corp., which is owned by Robert Murray. The company provided financial support for constructing the monument.
"I applaud them for that," Havas said.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who sharply criticized Murray a year ago, issued a statement Wednesday recognizing what he called an "outpouring" of love and support.
"We will never forget the families and friends of those who perished," Huntsman said. "Our actions as a state going forward will ensure that we do everything we can to make certain those who continue to mine coal will be as safe as possible."
To that end, Huntsman in July named 36-year mining veteran Garth Nielsen as the state's new mine safety director.
But a year after the Aug. 6 collapse, Havas said families of victims are angry, dismayed and frustrated over events they believe were avoidable.
Recent reports from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Labor have pointed blame at MSHA, Crandall Canyon Mine operator Genwal Resources, which is co-owned by Murray, and the engineering firm Agapito Associates Inc.
Along with the release of its report, MSHA proposed fining Genwal and Agapito over $1.5 million for violations that MSHA said directly contributed to the deaths of six miners. The fine, if the amount doesn't change after anticipated appeals, would be a record in the U.S. for a coal-mining incident.
The six miners killed in the initial collapse were Allred, 58; Don Erickson, 50; Jose Luis Hernandez, 23; Juan Carlos Payan, 22; Brandon Phillips, 24; and Manuel Sanchez, 41. Ten days later a collapse took the lives of rescuers Dale Black, 48; Gary Lynn Jensen, 53; and Brandon Kimber, 29.
Erickson's brother, Terry Erickson, and his father Erick Erickson, both veteran miners, also made the trip Wednesday with other family members.
"It kind of more or less put an end to thinking about it all the time," said Erickson's father, who lives in Price. "We'll be here quite often to pay our respects."
Don Erickson's mother, Lucile Erickson, called the site "hallowed ground," tearing up as she said, "He's still in there."
Erickson's parents and brother, like so many others, expressed their anger, saying they're unsure at where to direct it while at the same time trying to heal.
"He loved the mountains," Terry Erickson said about his brother. "So, I think he's going to like it."
Starting at about 8 a.m. immediate family members, whose names had to be on a list checked by Emery County sheriff's deputies, were the allowed first up the canyon that leads to the mine. There was a dedication ceremony led by Carl Sitterud, pastor of the Desert Edge Christian Chapel, where after weeks of frustration and anguish a year ago, families were finally told the search for the six men was over. Sitterud is a brother of Wendy Black, wife of killed rescuer Dale Black.
Sheriff Lamar Guymon called the ceremony and monument a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives.
"It's been nice," Guymon said. "If you can use that word in these kinds of situations." With close connections to some of the families, he added how an "overwhelming" feeling took hold during his visit.
Later Wednesday morning, extended family and friends were allowed up, where they stayed until about 3 p.m. After that media were allowed to view the monument, with the smell of pine in the air and the sound of a stream nearby.
Stephanie McNeil was friends with trapped miner Manuel Sanchez. She showed up with her family to see the monument.
"It's beautiful," McNeil said. "It's very peaceful up there.
"But we're still missing our miners," she said. "It'll never replace the miners themselves."
Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon elected to stay in town Wednesday, even though she was invited by Wendy Black. "I think it's a very private family time," Gordon said. "I just let them go up. It's just out of respect for the families."
On the day that marked when the six miners were trapped a year ago, Gordon said the community is trying to move on.
"I sense somewhat of a somber feeling throughout the town today," she said, noting the added element of an overcast day.
Kerry Allred's daughter, Tifani Marasco, visited the monument with her husband Mike. She described the site as "holy ground," adding that her father is still inside the mine.
"How do you forget that? ... We want to get them out," she said. "It's the only frustration right now, that the bodies are still there.
"This is the closest thing we have," Marasco said about the monument, which she noted now exists because of help from people directly connected with the mine.
But a stone marker on the long walkway to the monument doesn't offer any hope of a recovery.The marker reads, "You are now entering sacred ground, dedicated to the men who died in the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster of August 6, 2007, and who remain forever buried in this mountain. Walk with respect, reflect in grace."