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Utah miner's mother: Somehow 'my spirit knew'

Published March 23, 2013 10:37 pm

Julie Jones says she felt drained right before learning of son's death.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Huntington • Sometimes, a mother just knows.

Julie Jones said she was watching her son Elam's two children Friday afternoon when all of a sudden she felt drained for no particular reason. On Saturday, she recalled that the time was about 3 p.m. Then, the phone calls started coming in.

First, she said, a neighbor phoned and asked what was happening at the nearby mine. Jones said she didn't know, but by the time she got off the phone, a friend living a half an hour away, in Price, called with the same question.

Jones said she started making calls and after several, a dispatcher told her that whatever was going on, it wasn't happening at the mine where her son worked. Later, when a sheriff's deputy confirmed the worst news that a parent can hear, that her son had been killed in an accident, she reflected on her unexplained feelings at 3 p.m. Friday — when part of a tunnel roof fell on Elam Jones in the Rhino coal mine near the mouth of Huntington Canyon in Emery County.

"My body, my spirit knew," she said.

Later Friday, her husband, Derk, had a similar emotion when he pulled up to his Huntington home and his wife was waiting for him on the porch.

"I had an empty feeling in my stomach," he recalled Saturday, adding that he knew immediately what she was about to tell him. "And then she said there had been an accident."

Authorities say their 29-year-old son was killed and a co-worker, Dallen McFarlane, was injured. According to friends and family, Elam Jones worked as a continuous mining machine operator inside the mine.

Rescue crews managed to pull McFarlane out of the mine relatively quickly. He was taken to Castleview Hospital in Price, treated and released.

On Saturday, Derk and Julie Jones said they didn't harbor ill will toward anyone for their son's death. The father, a veteran of more than 30 years in the mines, noted that mining conditions are influenced by Mother Nature and that he did not believe human error led to the accident.

"I don't think they done a thing out of the ordinary," he said of the mine operators. "Their mining practices was good. I don't feel like the company or Elam was doing anything they wasn't supposed to."

Julie Jones agreed, saying she had no malice in the wake of the accident.

Still, the events of Friday left the family and community reeling.

Elam Jones was a third-generation miner. He had tried working as an auto mechanic and was close to earning an associate's degree at the College of Eastern Utah before following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and heading into the mines.

Despite the hazardous, high-stress nature of coal mining, Elam Jones loved his work, said his mother. She said he did it to support his family and because he loved his community.

He also loved adventure and had survived two avalanches while snowmobiling, although parts of his fingers had to be amputated. He believed that if he did die young, it would be in the mine, his mother said.

"His heart was always with the coal mine," Julie said. "Always."

Justin Miller, who grew up with Elam Jones and later worked alongside him in the mine, also said he loved the work. Miller described him as constantly cool under pressure.

"He was savvy," Miller said. "He could be trusted."

He also had a strong sense of humor, Miller said, and would sometimes play practical jokes on his friends in the mine.

Miller said Jones and McFarlane were both particularly skilled at their jobs and traded responsibilities frequently.

Jones leaves behind a wife and two sons, ages 5 and 4. According to his mother, Jones met his wife, Jacqi, on a blind date seven years ago. After two weeks, they knew they wanted to get married and got engaged. Six months later, they were wed.

Their two sons, Kelsen and Dacyn, were adopted, and the young couple were in the process of adopting a girl at the time of the accident, Julie Jones said.

Elam Jones' funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday in Huntington. A viewing will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday.