A Columbus coffee shop is taking donations to help pay for the funeral expenses of two men killed in an accident at Stillwater Mine.
Employees at Beartooth Beanery began accepting donations after conversations with the families of Jerry Ashlock and Dale Ketola. Ketola, 65, was a resident of Columbus. Ashlock, a 55-year-old from Caldwell, Idaho, started working at the mine in April of this year.
“Having a husband who works at the mine, and knowing so many people who work there, it hits everyone the same. I’m grateful that my husband comes home every night, and when that doesn’t happen for a family, the best way to help is to honor their memory,” said Heather Meier, who has been the owner and operator of Beartooth Beanery for the past eight years.
Ashlock and Ketola died Wednesday in a crash underground at the Stillwater Mine near Nye. The mine is run by Sibanye-Stillwater, a company based in South Africa with a headquarters in Columbus.
The two were traveling in a side-by-side ATV when it collided with a locomotive, according to statements from by Sibanye-Stillwater executives in the days following the crash. An investigation is currently underway by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, an agency within the Department of Labor that oversees all mining operations in the United States. At least 17 miners have died nationwide so far in 2021, according to the latest data from MSHA.
Sibanye-Stillwater, which acquired the Stillwater Mining Company in 2017, operates the Stillwater and East Boulder mines about 32 miles south of Big Timber. The mines are the sole significant source of platinum and palladium in the United States, with a workforce of around 2,300.
Ore has flowed out of Stillwater Mine since 1986, with miners extracting about 380,000 ounces a year of platinum and palladium, according to the company’s website.
Four miners have died at Stillwater Mine in the past decade, two of them while the mine was still under the management of Stillwater Mining Company. A 45-year-old man was found dead at the mine in 2013, and an autopsy could not determine his death. In 2011, a miner driving a hauling truck on an underground road lost control of the vehicle, and ran into a wall. A rock bolt struck the miner in the neck.
Wednesday’s crash temporarily closed the mine, and Meier said her Beartooth Beanery offered free coffee the next day. Some visitors still paid for their coffee, at times giving more than $20. Meier turned that generosity into a foundation for a fundraiser.
Events in the past hosted by the coffee shop raised hundreds of dollars for causes that benefited school programs and getting treatment for a local boy with leukemia. Meier said she collected about $150 for the families of Ashlock and Ketola as of Friday evening.
“Everyone’s been really giving since it happened, but we’re a pretty tight-knit community,” she said.
Those who want to make a donation can visit Beartooth Beanery at 136 South Pratten St. Columbus, MT 59019. Donations can also be mailed to Ashlock’s wife of 16 years, Tina Ashlock at 3031 Syringa Lane Caldwell, Idaho 83605. Ketola’s son, Keith Ketola, is also accepting mailed donations at P.O. Box 833 Columbus, MT 59019.