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Attorney: Permit sought before KC restaurant blast

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A subcontractor suspected of rupturing a natural gas line before a deadly Kansas City restaurant explosion said Wednesday that it applied for an excavation permit, although the city and contractor agree one was never granted.

Heartland Midwest attorney Brad Russell released a photocopied permit application and said the company sent it to the city 13 days before JJ's restaurant was leveled near the upscale Country Club Plaza shopping and entertainment district, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/15QEFMn ). One person was killed and 15 others were injured.

Russell didn't immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press.

A Missouri Gas Energy official said previously that Olathe, Kan.-based Heartland Midwest reported hitting a natural gas line with an underground borer more than an hour before the Feb. 19 explosion.

City spokesman Pat Klein, who first said Monday that Heartland failed to obtain a permit, added Wednesday that a city fax machine log confirms that Heartland sent something on the date the company said it filed its application.

But he told the AP that the city pored over its paperwork and cannot find the application. He also said Heartland never called to ensure the city received its application.

"If you are trying to get a permit to do some work and you haven't gotten it and you're getting ready to go do the work, common sense tells you, you might make a phone call and say, 'Hey, have you gotten this information?"' Klein said, adding that the application was lacking some details it needed.

Russell said it was "the pattern and the practice" for city officials to allow excavation work to go ahead as long as a permit application had been made. But Klein disputed the assertion, saying, "It is not standard operating procedure for the city to allow somebody to work without a permit."

Klein also said the city probably will look at its procedures to determine whether applications should be submitted via email to prevent problems that sometimes arise with faxes.

The blast remains under investigation.

Russell stressed that there is no conclusive proof yet that Heartland's crew hit a gas line on the day of the blast, even though a Heartland worker said he assumed he did while speaking with a police dispatcher.

Russell also pointed out other precautions the company had taken, referring to a photo from the day of the blast. It shows that lines marking where utilities were located were painted on the street outside JJ's and that the company had dug through the pavement to determine whether the markings corresponded with the actual location of the gas line.