By Brad Bowman
Mine Reclamation Enforcement Inspector Jason Keaton
If you asked Kentucky Division of Mine Reclamation Enforcement Inspector Jason Keaton why he decided on that Monday morning Feb. 12, to go down a dead-end logging road to inspect a mining site, he probably couldn’t give one, other than divine intervention.
That decision may have saved the life of an elderly Knoxville man who had been missing since the previous day.
“I don’t know why…maybe the good Lord steered me in that direction because I don’t usually go that way,” Keaton said. “But for some reason I just decided to go out on that road. And just over that hill I saw his truck.”
Keaton was inspecting a Nally and Hamilton mining site in Bell County. To get a better vantage point, he went down a dead-end road and was surprised to see a new-model pickup truck stopped down the hill just within a couple hundred feet from the site’s high wall – a sheer, vertical cliff.
Keaton found it concerning that not only was it stuck in the mud, it but appeared to have been there since the night before given the road’s potholes were still filled with unbroken ice. Perhaps, he wondered, it had been stolen and ditched after a joy ride.
“The old logging road was really muddy. When it turned on to the road, it had to have started sliding down that hill into some trees and couldn’t get out,” Keaton said. “When I stopped and approached it, the truck was running.
“I backed up and called the foreman at Nally and Hamilton because I didn’t know what I was going to encounter.”
Shaken, Keaton walked down to the truck once the foreman arrived. To his surprise, an elderly man opened the door.
Keaton gave the man water and asked if he had a family. The man, whose family asked that he not be identified, said he couldn’t remember his son’s phone number but gave Keaton a name.
Keaton used his cellphone to find a profile with the son’s name on Facebook. It was a match.
“It was sheer luck. I sent (the son) a message, and within 30 seconds, he called back,” Keaton said. “He said his father had been missing since 5 p.m. Sunday evening from Knoxville.”
Keaton contacted the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and a deputy picked the man up to reunite him with his son who traveled from the family’s home in Knoxville.
Later that night, Keaton contacted the son and was reassured the elderly man was safe at home, sleeping in his own bed.
“I’ve run into a lot of stuff in the mountains. I’ve worked as a coal miner for 16 years and I’ve been working with the state for four (years). I’ve never had anything like this happen,” Keaton said. “That evening, it really shook me up. What if I didn’t go down there? What if I didn’t find this guy? What if I hadn’t been the one to find him? I was thankful that I made the decision to turn down that road.”
“No matter whether I was wearing a state (employee) shirt or in a state vehicle, I would’ve done the same thing.
“Something like this changes you. I’m grateful for my job and I’m grateful for the opportunities I have had, but I don’t feel like I did anything special. Hopefully, anyone in my position would’ve done the same thing.”
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