Area residents and others have opened their hearts and wallets to help the staff of JJ's restaurant and the support continues to grow with the announcement of a trust fund established to further help.
A gas explosion ripped through JJ's restaurant at 6:04 p.m. Feb. 19, killing waitress Megan Cramer and injuring up to 15 others.
JJ's owner Jimmy Frantze, his brother, David Frantze, Mayor Sly James and Tim Leiweke, president and chief executive officer of Anschutz Entertainment Group, held a news conference at 6 p.m. Thursday.
They announced the formation of a staff assistance fund to help employees of the restaurant.
The trust has been established at Country Club Bank and will be controlled by trustees consisting of community leaders and a JJ's employee. Dave Frantze said all funds received will benefit JJ's staff, first responders and all those injured in the explosion and fire as they work to get on with their lives and take care of their financial, medical and emotional needs. This includes Missouri Gas Energy and Heartland Midwest employees impacted.
"This is a tremendous city to be a part of," Jimmy Frantze said. "The outpouring of thoughts, the generosity, the support, I don't think you could find that in another city in this country. I'm so proud to be a part of this community."
The press conference was an opportunity to say 'thank you' from the owners of JJ's restaurant - not only to the community firefighters, first responders and hospitals after the explosion, but also to the other restaurants in town who contributed a portion of their sales to the JJ's staff to help with financial and medical concerns.
Leiweke, who was in town for William Jewell College's Achievement Day, donated a $25,000 speaking fee to the trust fund and the Sprint Center Foundation and AEG will match it to add another $25,000.
Those who survived are struggling with nightmares.
"There were nine of my employees in that building when it exploded," Jimmy Frantze said. "We have one staff person that is still in the hospital, he was my sous chef. He had some pretty serious burns."
He went on to explain that the sous chef was still in the kitchen, half buried in the rubble after the explosion. A bartender and passerby ran back into the building and pulled the sous chef, Patrick Woodward, out of the rubble and fire. Frantze said there is no doubt that they saved his employee's life.
"He's (the sous chef) going to be in the hospital about 10 more days. He's out of a medically induced coma and the skin grafts seem to be going very well," Jimmy Frantze said.
Dave Frantze emphasized that his employees got all the customers out first.
Heartland Midwest, the company that hit the gas line, faxed over a digging permit on Feb. 6, but the city never received it. In addition, the paperwork was incomplete and would have been rejected.
The city didn't learn about this until the day after the explosion when Heartland asked for copies of the permit, which had never been issued.
City Manager Troy Schulte said it's not standard operating procedure to start work before a company's permit is approved.
To date, there has been no response from Heartland Midwest or their attorney.
The topic of rebuilding JJ's was discussed, but everyone said no decision has been made.
Go to the JJ's restaurant Facebook page for more details about the trust.
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322 Shipyard Boulevard