Contractor digging before JJ's explosion did not have permit - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM


Contractor digging before JJ's explosion failed to get permit, city manager says

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Kansas City officials say a cable company subcontractor suspected of rupturing a natural gas line before a deadly restaurant explosion didn't have an approved permit for the work.

City Manager Troy Schulte made the announcement Monday. Schulte last week had chastised reporters for saying no permit could be found for Heartland Midwest. Schulte emphasized a permit could have been obtained by someone else on behalf of the project, and the situation is being investigated.

But no such paperwork was found. The city could issue a fine.

City officials on Monday said the contractor tried to file the paperwork the day after the blast, but that wasn't quite the case. 

On Wednesday, city officials released documents sought by KCTV5 and other media outlets under the Missouri Sunshine Law.

Those documents showed that Heartland Midwest tried to fax over a request for a digging permit on Feb. 6, but the fax did not go through.The city's fax log shows an attempted fax, but not a completed receipt.

Heartland Midwest did not follow up to see if the city had received the paperwork and processed it until the day after the explosion.

Heartland Midwest failed to complete essential parts of the permit, including the specific area of where the digging would occur and the dimensions of the site. As a result, the city would have rejected the permit.

Heartland Midwest did submit and receive permits to close a section of the street for digging work. A man who was critically injured in the blast was listed as Heartland's job superintendent for the project.

Time Warner Cable had contracted for Heartland to lay cable to a nearby hotel.

A Heartland employee asked city officials for copies of the permits 23 hours after the explosion.

"Attached are the permit applications with the confirmation sheets showing they went through; not sure what happened but we are in a time crunch and I need the copies ASAP. Thanks!" wrote Sarah Sobotka of Heartland's billing and compliance office.

City officials immediately met with top managers inside City Hall about the situation.

"Heartland is trying to get excavation permits after the explosion event at JJ's restaurant. I intend for our group not to process unless upper management or legal staff tells us to do so," Jerry Cook, a public works employee, wrote. "They are trying to say that they submitted the excavation permit applications before the work, but they did not."

City officials were told not to issue any "after-the-fact" permits until the city attorney's office and city manager's office reviewed.

Heartland Midwest representatives didn't immediately respond to Monday's or Wednesday's report from city officials. Attorneys for the company last week made little comment with the threat of lawsuits pending.

The Kansas City Fire Department released a 22-page report Monday afternoon detailing the department's immediate response to the explosion, which occurred at 6:04 p.m.

Few new details were released; however, the report did indicate that the city received a report of a gas odor at a Pembroke School near Loose Park. This was about five city blocks from JJ's Restaurant.

Heartland Midwest was working near JJ's, which was located at 910 W. 48th St. The contractor was installing cable for Time Warner Cable to a nearby hotel, which is under construction.

A member of Heartland's crew called 911 at 4:54 p.m. Feb. 19 to report they had struck and ruptured a gas line with an underground borer.

Missouri Gas and the Kansas City Fire Department were notified.

MGE Chief Operating Officer Rob Hack said a Heartland Midwest worker called 911 at 4:54 p.m. Tuesday to report hitting a gas line near the restaurant.

MGE workers arrived at the scene shortly after, and Hack said those who had remained inside the restaurant before the blast were urged to get out. But restaurant workers and patrons have disputed that, saying there was no sense of urgency from workers.

The gas erupted at 6:04 p.m.

Evidence suggests the ignition point was inside JJ's, Fire Chief Paul Berardi said, but he didn't say what might have sparked the gas.

The explosion shattered glass in nearby buildings, and the resulting inferno sent an ominous smoke plume high above the outdoor shopping district.

In addition to the fatality, 15 people were injured, four of which continue recovering at a Kansas hospital.

The University of Kansas has the area's only adult burn center. Hospital spokesman Dennis McCulloch says one person remained hospitalized Monday in critical condition. Friends have said a Heartland Midwest employee suffered critical injuries.

Two individuals are in fair condition and one is in good condition.

More than a dozen were treated and released at other hospitals after the blast and fire.

Brad Russell, a lawyer for Heartland Midwest, released a statement expressing sympathy for the victims and saying the company is cooperating with authorities. "We are reserving any public comment until the completion of a thorough investigation," the statement concluded.

Until the explosion, JJ's had managed to survive in the shadow of a large construction project that has been under way across the narrow, one-way street for seven years. The work had complicated access to the street corner restaurant, and a server needed hospital treatment in 2006 after she was struck by a rock sent flying by blasting for excavation of the construction site.

The construction project languished and eventually stalled out in 2008.

It's uncertain whether Jimmy Frantze, JJ's owner, will rebuild. The development that stalled out has been restarted and is expected to open later this year with a large law firm as a chief tenant, theoretically providing a new JJ's with a well-heeled clientele.

But last Wednesday, Frantze was noncommittal.

"We're dealing with the loss of a business so I'm not sure," he said.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  and The Associated Press.  All rights reserved.

  • DEVELOPINGContractor digging before JJ's explosion failed to get permit, city manager saysMore>>

  • Timeline


    Wednesday, February 20 2013 9:53 PM EST2013-02-21 02:53:46 GMT
    James Garrett, a spokesman for the Kansas City Fire Department, released this timeline of Tuesday's initial call up to the explosion. The initial call came from the contractor to 911 at 4:54 p.m. AtMore >>
    James Garrett, a spokesman for the Kansas City Fire Department, released this timeline of Tuesday's initial call up to the explosion.More >>
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