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New report on J.J.’s explosion adds details

Updated: 2014-02-06T17:12:24Z

By MIKE HENDRICKS

The Kansas City Star

The manager of JJ’s restaurant told police he smelled natural gas in the building nearly a half hour before a contractor called 911 to report that his crew had punctured an underground line.

That and several other details not generally known about last month’s fatal blast are contained in a Kansas City Police Department report released Wednesday.

The 19-page document, however, contains little new substantive information not already made public in an earlier report issued jointly by the Kansas City Fire Department and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

That earlier report concluded that the Feb. 19 explosion was caused when natural gas filled the restaurant and was ignited in the kitchen area, where two pilot lights were still on just before the blast.

Restaurant general manager Matt Nichols is quoted in the police report as saying he smelled gas about 4:30 p.m. on the day of the explosion, some 24 minutes before a worker installing underground cable called in the gas leak.

But in an interview with The Star on Wednesday, Nichols said the time was probably more like 4:45.

The restaurant blew up about 6 p.m., killing waitress Megan Cramer and injuring 15 others, as a crew from Missouri Gas Energy worked to stem the leak.

The police report also quotes a fellow employee who said he was standing next to Cramer in the bar area when the wall and roof caved in.

“Everything became pitch black, blood was everywhere and something heavy was on top of him,” according to the police narrative. “He managed to free himself by pushing the stuff off of him and there was only one way out.

“As he was crawling out, he heard Megan asking for help.”

Cramer’s body was found the next day.

The Missouri Public Service Commission and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration are also investigating. Their reports are not expected for months.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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