Wind might have snuffed out the candles lit in honor of Pete Kuhn at a candlelight vigil in Imlay Nov. 3, but it could not extinguish the love in the hearts of the Imlay Baptist Church congregation or mining community for two miners lost in an autumn accident.
Kuhn and co-worker Omar Bernal were killed at the SSR Mining Marigold Mine in Valmy Oct. 31. The mining community across the state mourned after a passenger van carrying nine miners was run over by a haul truck. The other seven, plus the haul truck driver, were hospitalized for noncritical injuries.
At the candlelight vigil, however, the participants celebrated Pete Kuhn’s life. He had had 25 years and 20 weeks of mining experience, according to a Mine Safety and Health Administration preliminary report released Nov. 6. He was 60 years old.
“My heart is full today to see you all represent his life,” wife Holly Kuhn told friends, his co-workers, mine industry representatives and supporters at the church where her husband had served as pastor for about two years.
Paraphrasing scripture, she reminded those in attendance that sorrow lasts for a night but joy would come in the morning.
“Sometimes that morning takes a little longer than most, but that’s OK,” Holly Kuhn said. “Just remember Pete as the flame flickers.”
Also in attendance were son Alexander Kuhn and his wife, Jessica; daughter Amanda Briggs; and son Kyle Kuhn with children Molly, Maddie and Ethan.
Those who knew Pete Kuhn described him as a bear of a man with a wide grin. They said he was a role model as a man of God and in his job as a safety coordinator at the mine. He was driving the van at the time of the accident, which occurred at 2:10 p.m., and MSHA was notified at 2:51 p.m., according to the report.
Pete Kuhn also served on the mine rescue team as the coordinator. His teammates and church members said he was good at rescuing people, both the men on the team and those in need of spiritual help.
“Words can’t describe how bad we feel, and we’re sorry,” said Bob Starkley of the mine rescue team, addressing a church packed full and overflowing into the parking lot with people. “But from the turnout here, Pete was loved.”
At the words of congregant Victoria Martinne, the audience made it clear that their pastor is still loved.
“I know Pete is walking with Jesus now,” Martinne said, and the crowd applauded and uttered heartfelt “amens.”
Bernal, 39, had 16 weeks of mining experience, according to the MSHA report. He was riding in the front passenger’s seat at the time of the accident, but the report shows that he died Nov. 1 at 12:20 a.m.
An obituary published in The Humboldt Sun on Nov. 11 quotes his full name as Omar Bernal Covarrubias, although those who knew him called him “Rambo.” The obituary states that Bernal enjoyed working at the Marigold Mine, took pride in making food, was passionate about sports and loved to laugh.
“He always found humor in life and passed that on every chance he got,” the article reads.
The obituary also credits Bernal with having love and dedication for his family, including wife Vanessa Valencia, and children Shantel, Jamal, Omar Jr. and Khloe. The family hosted a service to celebrate Bernal’s life on Nov. 11 at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Winnemucca.
Bernal also was recognized across the mining community, as a remembrance ceremony and moments of silence were among the additional ways that people rallied to show their love, support and respect.
“A lot of us were very deeply touched by the accident,” said Dawn McClary, executive director of the Battle Mountain Chamber of Commerce. “Our community is hurting.”
About 85 miles away in Battle Mountain the same night as the candlelight vigil, before the NIAA 2A Northern League Playoff at the Silver Standard Resources Sports Complex in Battle Mountain, the teams and spectators conducted a remembrance.
“We all have friends and family members that work there, so when something affects a major industry — which mining is in [neighboring] Lander County — many people are affected,” said David Marz, a Battle Mountain High School English teacher and soccer coach. “One person in mining is the entire family, so we were all affected.”
The ceremony before the football game included the BMHS Band playing Echo Taps and the national anthem. Marz made an announcement over the loudspeaker to audience members in the stands and players of the Battle Mountain and Yerington football teams.
“It is with heavy and humble hearts that we gather this evening at the Silver Standard Resources Sporting Complex and Tim Knight Field in remembrance of two members of our community,” Marz wrote in a prepared script. “The mining industry is vital to the Lander County Community and to the Lander County School District — in fact, this sporting complex is a result of the hard work and generosity of the mines in our community. Mining has been an integral part of our community for many, many decades and will continue to be so, for many more to come.”
SSR Mining released the following statement in thanks for the community support:
“All of us at SSR Mining are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Pete Kuhn and Omar Bernal. Pete and Omar were much-valued employees, colleagues and friends to many, whose loss will be felt by all those who knew them.
“We are grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and thank all those who have reached out to us.”
MSHA is conducting an investigation, and SSR Mining stated it is cooperating fully and will conduct its own operational and safety review. The mine resumed operation the week of Nov. 13.
To date in 2017, MSHA reports that there have been 12 metal/nonmetal mining fatalities nationwide. In the coal sector, 14 have died. In 2016, a total of 16 fatalities occurred, including one in Nevada.
Also after the accident, Newmont Mining Corp. held a moment of silence out of respect, Barrick Gold Corp. reached offered its support, and mining companies everywhere shared the story with compassion in safety meetings, reminding everyone to be safe.
“Hug your children,” McClary said. “Kiss your husbands.”
Editor's note: A previous, shorter version of this article in Mining Quarterly ran first in the Elko Daily Free Press.