NEWELL - Bucky Mack was sitting in a local bar Thursday afternoon beside one of Corey Keller's six brothers when the news came of Keller's death in an explosion at the Horsehead Corp. zinc plant.
"I was sitting right there when he was getting the news," Mack said. "He got a phone call at the bar. It was terrible."
According to the Associated Press, an explosion occurred around 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the zinc smelting plant in Monaca, Pa. Beaver County officials later confirmed two workers were dead, Keller, 41 of Newell, and James Taylor, 53 of Aliquippa, Pa. The coroner said the men died of smoke inhalation.
"I saw him go by when he left for work yesterday," Mack said Friday afternoon while turning wrenches at Six Auto Recycling in Newell. "He was raising a family and had a few rental properties going. He was doing real good for himself."
Mack said he grew up in Newell with Keller and his six brothers. "We went to school together," Mack said. "Everyone knows the Kellers. It's a small town."
Mack said Keller graduated from Oak Glen High in 1987 and he followed in 1988.
He said Keller was married with two boys. He described Keller as a true family man who was always working hard to carve out a life for himself and his family.
"I feel so sorry for Michelle and the boys," Mack said. "Those boys shouldn't have to grow up without their dad."
Mack said Keller had worked at the Horsehead plant about five years and also had a business on the side installing carpets. "People were always asking him to lay carpet for them," Mack recalled. "He put in a few carpets for me. He was good at it, too."
Plant officials told the AP about 600 employees work at the plant. On the company's website, the plant is described as being "recognized as the world's largest user of recycled zinc-bearing materials in its manufacturing process," and that Horsehead's Monaca location produces primarily zinc metal and zinc oxide.
A plant spokesman told the AP the explosion Thursday afternoon involved a refinery column that produces zinc oxide. Plant officials have launched an investigation into the cause of the blast.
"Everybody loved Corey," Mack concluded. "He was a good dude."
(Tullis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)