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Gas leak reported before blast leveled restaurant

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 20, 2013 at 9:40 pm •  Published: February 20, 2013

Those who remained in the restaurant were urged to leave, Hack said. A gas company employee urged people to evacuate the medical center, too.

The blast happened around 6 p.m. Tuesday, when the dinner crowd would have been filing into JJ's and the many other restaurants in the upscale Country Club Plaza shopping and dining district.

The restaurant was a fixture on the city's culinary scene for more than 27 years. Locals knew it as a prime after-work stop, though it won a broader reputation after receiving consistently high ratings from contributors to Zagat's restaurant guides, both for its food and its long wine list.

The mother of the missing server said fire officials told her that dental records were being used to determine for sure whether the remains found in the rubble are those of 46-year-old Megan Cramer.

Genny Cramer said her daughter wrote poetry and helped establish the first lesbian/gay student group at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her identity was first reported by the Star.

"We talked on the phone the day she died," Cramer said. "She said she was doing well and was getting ready for work."

When they learned of the leak, firefighters deferred to the utility since it would have more expertise in assessing the situation, Fire Chief Paul Berardi said.

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety consultant in Redmond, Wash., said federal law holds the utility responsible for deciding whether to evacuate, but assessing the risk isn't always easy.

Sometimes it's difficult to determine how much gas has been built up. And even highly trained people can underestimate the danger.

"I've seen people who work for gas companies and have gas sniffers, and their bodies are found in buildings," Kuprewicz said. "There is some art and some experience and some training in this stuff."

Brad Russell, a lawyer for the subcontractor's company, Heartland Midwest, released a statement late Wednesday 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.

The Missouri Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities, launched an investigation into the blast, dispatching five employees to the site.

Commission Chairman Kevin Gunn said preliminary information indicates that gas pipelines had been properly marked. It could take up to six months before a final report is issued.