CHERRY FALLS, W.Va. — A worker with the state Division of Highways died as a result of a fire early Monday morning at DOH headquarters in Webster County, authorities said.
Stephen Cogar, 22, who has been with the DOH since October, died of smoke inhalation from the fire at the garage located at Cherry Falls.
A news release from the Webster County Office of Emergency Services said Webster County received several 911 hang-up calls from Cogar’s cell phone. Before that, Cogar had been chatting with a Webster County dispatcher on social media.
A Webster County deputy was dispatched to the DOH garage after the hang-up calls, the release said.
“(The deputy) was immediately dispatched to investigate the calls after numerous attempts to contact Mr. Cogar via cell phone and landline phone at DOH Headquarters. At approximately 2:41am, Deputy Clayton arrived on scene reporting a working fire at the West Virginia Department of Highways Headquarters in Webster Springs.”
The state Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of the fire.
State DOH spokesman Brent Walker said the news of Cogar’s death was devastating.
“He certainly was a valued team member. We are just all kind of shocked,” Walker said, adding it’s not unusual for a crew member to work overnight in some of the mountain counties.
“Temperatures, especially in the higher elevations, have really been cold and so it absolutely is not uncommon for us to have a shift or a person on call.”
DOH Secretary Tom Smith issued a statement in connection with the death:
“Early this morning, there was a fire at our Webster County Maintenance Headquarters. Tragically, one of our team members lost their life. Knowing what to say in these situations is always difficult for us, but as Secretary of Transportation, I will tell you that we are devastated and heartbroken and I hope, in the coming days, I can reach out to the family and personally express our sorrow. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and co-workers.”
Gov. Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice issued a joint statement Monday afternoon:
“Cathy and I are heartbroken upon learning of the death of a West Virginia Division of Highways worker early this morning during a fire at the DOH Headquarters in Webster County. It’s tragic to lose one of our state employees, especially one so young. We ask all West Virginians to join us in praying for the family, friends and co-workers of this young man.”
Justice also began a news conference at the Capitol this afternoon with a moment of silence for the young DOH worker.
“We’ve lost a new employee at the age of 22. It’s tragic to lose a life,” Justice said. “It’s tragic to have a fire. We don’t know the circumstances. But we do know we’ve lost a young man. It’s especially bad when we lose someone who is 22 years old.”