Clifton Heights restaurant explosion under investigation

CINCINNATI - Kevin Malm lives in an apartment above the Jerusalem Restaurant and was home Sunday night when the front of the store exploded.

"I was just sitting watching TV,  I heard this loud boom, then like a little shake like an earthquake type thing," Malm said.  "I saw dust coming up through the floorboard. I thought our tub fell through the ceiling,"

Malm and his roommate quickly tried to escape.

"When we we came down the steps to leave, it was all dust. We couldn't see anything," Malm said.  "That was kind of scary.  We weren't sure if we could get out.  We had to cover our eyes and move slowly down the stairs. We found the door and we got out."

The restaurant is owned by Aiman Arabeiat.  His friend Bushar Albustami tells 9 News that Arabeiat was ready to go on a trip to Chicago to meet a new chef, but on his way he and his son stopped by the restaurant just after 9 p.m.

"When he was about to open the door, the father, who is the owner of the restaurant and his son was waiting outside in his truck, the explosion happened," Albustami said.

Albustami said his friend was transported to University Hospital with burns, a head injury and injuries to his lungs from breathing in hot fumes.

"It's so sad because I never seen someone so excited to reopen his business and he was so excited." said Albustami. "It's sad and painful for him, for us, for his family, for his kids."

Dozens of officers and firefighters responded to a report of a fire at the restaurant at around 9:20 p.m.  When crews arrived, they found the building's windows blown out but no fire.

Evan Walis is an employee at a nearby business and said the explosion sounded like a loud car crash.  He quickly went outside to see what happen.

"All the glass is all the way out across the street," Walis said.  "The metal doorframe is across the sidwalk.  It's pretty bad."

Albustami says Arabeiat recently closed the store but was ready to re-open it after a plan to sell fell through. He says Arabeiat sent him pictures the same day of the explosion that showed the changes he had made. He said his friend was very excited and happy with how the restaurant looked.

According to Hamilton County court records, Arabeiat was recently indicted for a theft charge after he allegedly stole some car parts from a woman's vehicle.

The fire department is leading the investigation and continues to search for what caused the explosion.

Duke Energy was on scene for much of the night and says the explosion was not caused by a gas leak.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is helping in the investigation.

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