Trust fund established for those hurt in JJ’s explosion

The owners of JJ’s restaurant have established a trust fund to oversee donations to take care of the needs of injured staff members and others affected by last week’s explosion.

The president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which manages the Sprint Center, and the Sprint Center Foundation will contribute a combined $50,000 to the fund.

Tim Leiweke of AEG, who was in town to speak at William Jewell Achievement Day, said he would donate $25,000 of his honorarium to the JJ’s Staff Assistance Fund. He also announced that would be matched by the Sprint Center Foundation. JJ’s will contribute $5,000 to the fund.

The fund is established at the Country Club Bank. Expenditures will be managed by a three-member board of trustees. They are JJ’s staff member Josh Lehne, former Jackson County circuit judge Jay Daugherty and former KPMG managing partner David Fowler.

The fund will be used to assist JJ’s staff members with medical bills and financial losses, as well as to provide any treatment needed to deal with psychological or emotional issues.

“My staff wakes up with nightmares,” JJ’s co-owner Jimmy Frantze said at a news conference Thursday announcing the trust fund.

He said the scene when the restaurant exploded from a natural gas leak was like a war zone, with flying debris and fire.

“Some of them still have hearing loss,” Frantze said of his staff.

Of the nine employees who were in the restaurant at the time of the explosion, only sous chef Patrick Woodward remains in the hospital.

Frantze said Woodward was trapped in the kitchen under rubble, and one of the bartenders grabbed a passerby from the street to help pull him to safety and save his life. Frantze said that Woodward is now out of a medically induced coma and that skin grafts are going well. He is expected to be in the hospital 10 more days or so.

Although the trustees will determine how the fund is spent, Frantze and his brother, JJ’s co-owner David Frantze, said they hope the trustees will consider requests from gas company workers, emergency responders and others injured by the explosion and fire. They said they also hope the fund could assist the family of Megan Cramer, the JJ’s employee who died in the fire.

Mayor Sly James vowed at the news conference that Kansas City would make whatever procedural changes are necessary to prevent such explosions.

“We will examine everything that happened, and as we make those determinations we will, I assure you, we will do everything we can to make sure it never happens again,” James said. “If there is anything we need to improve or change, we will improve and change. But right now I can’t tell you what that is.”

The city says the company that ruptured the gas line near JJ’s did not have a permit to do the work. The company, Heartland Midwest, said it had applied for a permit.

Jimmy Frantze said he would like to rebuild his restaurant, which operated for 28 years just west of the Country Club Plaza. He said he has salvaged undamaged terra cotta tiles from the facade with the idea of using them again.