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York native, 28, is latest to die in West Virginia mining accident

Another coal miner has died in West Virginia. This death Friday came some three weeks after 29 people died in another mine.

This time, death didn't arrive by explosion. The operator of a coal mining machine became trapped between the machine and the coal of the earth itself in the Beckley mine of International Coal Group. The company called what happened an accident.

Doctors used more than 80 pints of blood to try to save him.

But this 28-year-old guy who died Friday wasn't represented among the hardhats - miner's lamps turned from dark to light - in a memorial service for 29 miners Sunday in West Virginia, attended by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Those 29 men died April 5 in America's worst coal mine tragedy in decades.

This miner started as a little kid who learned to read in York schools.

This miner was a teen who went to midnight bowling at Rock Hill's Striker's Family Sportscenter.

This miner was a young man who passed alternators and spark plugs across the counter at Auto Zone on Liberty Street in York, where he flirted with the pretty young thing who also worked the counter and later became his wife.

His name was John Dale "Johnny" King Jr. - John Dale to those who knew him the very best, Johnny to the rest of York. Husband and stepfather, coal miner.

Johnny was briefly mentioned by name during the somber Sunday services for the other 29 men from the other mine, his mother said. But he gets no special service when he is laid to rest Wednesday.

He is, now, a dead miner.

Johnny was a big burly guy - 6-plus feet tall, 220 pounds - who died on the night shift for his wages that were a good, honest living.

He was injured, badly say his family and friends, around 11 p.m. Thursday. He had worked most of his five years as a "top holder." His job was literally to keep the roof of a mine from falling in on the mine inside.

He left a wife of six years and two teenage stepchildren in some place in Appalachia called Glen Daniel, West Virginia - and he left many in York crying and preparing to make a four-hour drive to a funeral Wednesday in the mountains that look beautiful outside but carry death inside.

Johnny will get a firefighter's send-off: He was a volunteer in West Virginia. A guy who, on his off time, wanted to help others whose sons were trapped somewhere, inside flames or car wrecks.

"We have a caravan of people heading up," said Kerry Ohiser, pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church between York and Sharon, of the of 240-mile drive straight up Interstate 77 to Beckley. "We had a special prayer Sunday during services."

Johnny moved to West Virginia about six years ago with his wife, Leona, the woman he met there at the counter at Auto Zone with his best buddy Jonathan Crawford working beside him.

Leona came to York from West Virginia, where a 22-year-old guy not afraid of work could make good money under that ground.

"I was concerned that his job was dangerous, sure," said Nancy King, Johnny's mother. "He started out as a dispatcher, and he wanted to be a miner. He did what he set out to do."

Johnny knew the many of the names of those other miners mourned in Sunday's memorial service, said King's best friend in York since the first grade, Jonathan Crawford.

As recently as last year, he had worked in that other Upper Big Branch mine, just a few miles from the mine Johnny worked.

"He knew a lot of those guys who died, worked with them," Crawford said. "He was working on something on the side, planning, so that he didn't have to stay in the mines his whole life.

"I just had a son six weeks ago. Charles, but we call him Charlie. We were hoping Johnny would have seen him soon. Never get to see Charlie, now."

Johnny King and Jonathan Crawford met where all tough 6-year-old boys from York meet: At school, up against the outside chain-link fence, in a bit of trouble with the teacher from being too rough and loud in recess.

Too boy-like, they were.

"We started to talking, and right away we were best friends," remembered Crawford. "I was in trouble that day and so was he."

They were best friends every day afterward - "brothers, really," said Crawford - in school through York Comprehensive High, later at Auto Zone.

Johnny even stayed with the Crawford family for a while and was just like a sibling, said Beth Crawford, Jonathan's sister.

"Johnny King wasn't a friend, he was my brother," she said. "Free spirit, fun and funny, just a super person. We all loved him."

The mine death is being investigated by federal, state and company officials, said Ira Gamm, vice-president for public relations for the coal company. The mine was shut down Friday in King's honor.

But that doesn't do much right now for Nancy King, the mama, whose son is dead.

"I went right to West Virginia, but I had to come back and get clothes - funeral clothes," she said Monday.

A mine investigation doesn't help guys like Jonathan Crawford, whose best friend is dead.

The way Johnny died - working deep down in a dangerous mine so others could have the energy they need or want - isn't lost on Crawford, who drives a big V-8 that uses gasoline like Wall Street scammers use stock options.

"I'm one to talk," Crawford said, of himself and his big gas-guzzler. "The great American appetite for oil and coal. We all have it."

How else would Johnny King have made a living in West Virginia, though? This was a man who as a teen who hunted and fished and played golf and chased girls. Was he supposed to ride an electric cart?

These tough York guys, kids who met after getting in trouble for being too boisterous, did not mature at symposiums about alternative fuels. They roared through life as younger men as Johnny eyed Leona at the parts counter at Auto Zone.

They talked with customers and each other of big-block motors and four-barreled carburetors and "headers" that displace the exhaust to make cars go faster and faster and make big engines zoom.

But alternative fuels have to be a higher priority, Crawford said, and the recent deaths, including Johnny's, should show all of us that fossil fuels will go the way someday of what in part made the fuel itself - dinosaurs.

"We got to find a better, safer way to get coal out of the ground," Crawford said.

Family and friends in York will set up a local memorial service soon after Wednesday's funeral in West Virginia, "so Johnny's friends can gather," said his mother.

But there probably will be no dignitaries, no presidents, no national media. Johnny King probably wouldn't have wanted a fuss at his services, said his best friend.

"The volunteer fire department will bury him with their honors," Crawford said. "You work hard, you want to help people, they bury you right.

"Now that is an honor."

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