Two striking union workers killed on line



COLUMBIANA, Ala. (AP)—Two striking union steelworkers were killed on the picket line Tuesday when an 18-wheeler leaving a wire plant ran them down, police said. The truck driver was charged with reckless murder.

Company officials closed the National Standard plant indefinitely, and as law officers escorted about 75 workers out, strikers threw rocks, sticks, pipes and tools at them. Some automobile windshields were broken and some cars were dented, but no one was injured, Columbiana Police Chief Richard Todd said.

As nightfall approached, strikers carrying baseball bats and pieces of wood milled around outside the plant. The driveway was blocked with overturned barrels.

‘‘It was almost a riot,’‘ Shelby County Sheriff James Jones said. ‘‘Emotions are very, very high and that’s understandable.’‘

Walter Fleming, 55, of Vincent, and Keith Cain, 23, were struck and killed while standing in the plant’s driveway, Todd said.

Truck driver Larry Gray Jr., 24, of Ragland, was arrested and charged with two counts of reckless murder and one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident, Todd said.

Gray kept driving after hitting the men outside the plant and was stopped 15 miles away by a police officer, Todd said. He said police had a videotape shot by a plant employee of the men being hit.

The driver, an employee of Oliver Transportation of Mexico, Mo., was being held without bond.

About 200 members of United Steelworkers Local 15015 have been on strike since June 1 in a dispute over a company proposal for a wage cut.

National Standard, with headquarters in Niles, Mich., produces wire and wire-related products. Columbiana, the county seat of Shelby County, is about 25 miles southeast of Birmingham.

Plant manager Robert L. Gallant didn’t return a telephone message left at his home Tuesday night.