Durham fire chief: Coffee shop owner killed in Durham explosion didn’t want to evacuate

North Carolina
Durham Explosion 1

Kong Lee, the owner of the coffee shop that was the site of Wednesday’s explosion in downtown Durham, didn’t want to evacuate his shop during the gas leak, according to fire chief Robert Zoldos. 

Lee, 61, died in the explosion. There were 25 others injured, including a firefighter who underwent surgery Wednesday and expected to be released Thursday. There were no new victims found in Thursday’s search, Zoldos said. 

Zoldos said Thursday afternoon that fire officials were in the process of finding a police officer to enforce the evacuation order when the explosion happened. 

Deputy city manager Bo Ferguson said the contractor who was boring under the sidewalk and is believed to have caused the explosion was working with Fiber Technology, LLC. The company had a valid permit to be performing work on N. Duke Street. The company was recently acquired by Crown Castle. 

Around 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, a huge explosion rocked downtown Durham and sent thick, black smoke billowing into the sky. The smoke could be seen for miles and actually showed up on Doppler radar in the CBS 17 weather center.

Durham police said that Durham firefighters were sent to a gas leak call in the 100 block of N. Duke Street at 9:38 a.m. A contractor was boring under the sidewalk and struck a 2-inch gas line.

At 10:07 a.m., Dominion Energy and the Durham Fire Department were investigating the leak when the explosion happened, police said.

Ferguson said it’s not clear whether or not the utilities had been marked prior to the contractors beginning their work that resulted in the explosion.

The explosion directly involved five buildings. Fifteen buildings in total were damaged, authorities said Thursday morning.

The building where the explosion occurred has been decimated and much of it is now rubble. Four other buildings were damaged, some heavily.

The SBI, ATF, and OSHA are assisting in the investigation.

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