October 9, 2007 The Pump Handle 0Comment

What do three women made widows by three fatal Kentucky coal mining accidents have in common with two others left behind in the 2006 airline crash?

“I am a widow.  I am a single parent.  I’m an advocate for anyone suffering because they were robbed of their spouse due to ineptitude and/or negligence,”

said Sarah King Fortney, (here) whose 49 year-old husband C.W. Fortney was killed when Comair flight 5191 crashed after taking-off from the wrong runway at the Lexington, KY airport in August 2006.  Mrs. Fortney was recently honored, along with four other widows, by the Kentucky Justice Association with the group’s Consumer Safety Award, for

“their tireless work in the public and political arena.”

The other recipients were: Kathy Ryan, whose husband Michael, 55, also died in the Comair 5191 crash, Claudia Cole, whose husband Russell Cole Sr. was killed in August 2005 at the Stillhouse mine, Stella Morris, whose husband David “Bud” Morris, 29, was killed in December 2005 at H&D Mining,* and Melissa Lee whose husband Jimmy Lee was killed in May 2006 at the Kentucky Darby mine.  (All three mining fatalities occurred in Harlan County, KY.)

The two women made widows by the August 2006 airline disaster, fought to change a Kentucky law which would allow spouses to file lawsuits for “loss of consortium” (companionship) in wrongful death cases.  According to the Kentucky Justice Association, Kentucky is one of four states that do not allow spouses to seek this particular legal recourse.

On winning the award, Mrs. Fortney said:

“Going to the Capitol and lobbying for the rights of husbands and wives whose spoused have perished was a learning and sobering experience.  This award…fills me with honor and makes me emboldened to continue this fight, honor my husband’s memory and turn my personal tragedy into a legacy of fairness.”

The work of two Comair 5191 widows was instrumental in passage of a bill in the Kentucky House, but ultimately it stalled in the State Senate.

For the Harlan County mining widows, their efforts were more successful.  The State passed laws requiring more inspections for underground coal mines, mandatory notification before retreat mining takes place, and trained EMT’s on every shift.

The plaque awarded to the five women reads:

“For Strength, Courage and the Willingness to Fight.”


*Note: The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward wrote about Stella and Bud Morris (here) and his story includes several lovely photographs of the couple’s baby boy, who was only 3 months old when Bud Morris was killed. 

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