Government
5:46 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

Charges Are Leveled, Denied 6 Months After Deadly KC Blast

The contract drilling company suspected of opening a gas line before JJ’s Restaurant blew up in February will fight OSHA sanctions and fines. 

One woman was killed in the explosion at the edge of Country Club Plaza.

Kansas City Police and fire investigators outside JJ's Restaurant after the February 19th, 2013 explosion-fire.
Kansas City Police and fire investigators outside JJ's Restaurant after the February 19th, 2013 explosion-fire.
Credit Elana Gordon / KCUR

The federal accusations are hotly denied by the company suspected of having accidentally opened the gas line.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Heartland Midwest broke rules, "willful violations" leading up to the gas leak and placed the contract driller on a “severe violator” list.

OSHA’s Scott Allen said from his Chicago office, the list is little understood outside the business community, “it is not based on how severe the accident is or if there is a fatality or injury, it’s all on the size of the company and the type of violations and whether they had previous violations of the same type.”

A spokesman for the company said Heartland had only one minor OSHA violation in the past, in Texas.

There’s a proposed fine against  Heartland Midwest of $161,000. 

Brad Russell is lawyer for the Olathe based Heartland and says he will ask an administrative law judge in Jackson County, Mo. to order OSHA to show what evidence it has — “they have no rules whatsoever applicable to our industry and how it does it’s job. And you’ll see that. They don’t state a single state, city, local, federal regulation that Heartland allegedly violated.”

Russell said if Missouri Gas Energy had noted a gas line was in the way of drillers they’d have avoided it.

The Heartland Midwest company attorney characterized OSHA as a rule-heavy agency that found Heartland workers didn’t have insulated boots.

As Russell put it, electrocution was not the problem.

He also said OSHA suggested a driller was smoking before the blast. Russell wants to see proof.

The  ine of $161,000 far surpasses a fine of the restaurant ownership of $2,000. OSHA found JJ’s did not have a proper emergency plan. 

Several investigations are underway months after the explosion killed a restaurant worker and injured others nearby.