The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 2011 Joplin tornado

April 13, 2012

Mother greets Pizza Hut customers in memory of heroic son

JOPLIN, Mo. — Her son was not there Friday, but Pam Praytor made sure his spirit was.

“He loved his job,” she said. “He loved the cooking. He loved the driving. That’s why I’m a greeter here today. I wanted to be here for him because he would have been very excited that they have come back.’’

Her Pizza Hut name tag read: “Chris Lucas — Management.’’

From inside the restaurant’s walk-in cooler, 27-year-old Christopher Lucas grabbed a cord or a rope, and tried to hold the door shut against the 200 mph winds of the May 22 tornado. He would lose his life saving others. The tornado flattened the Pizza Hut.

Also killed at the restaurant were Gregan D. Sweet, 59, of Joplin; Carolane Collins, 62, of Eagle Rock; Lois Comfort, 66, of Webb City, and Kayleigh Teal, 16, of Pittsburg, Kan., another Pizza Hut employee who was trying to help Lucas.

Praytor was on hand Friday morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to reopen the Pizza Hut at 1901 S. Range Line Road.

Praytor thought her son was delivering pizza when the tornado struck. She figured he would be able to see it coming and drive out of its way to some place safe. She did not know until later that day that he had been at the restaurant and that his body had been recovered on the parking lot of the Aldi grocery store.

“We just miss him,” she said. “I am proud of what he did that day, but I just want him back. Today is very bittersweet,’’ Praytor said. “But I got to say goodbye to him that day. He loved to fish. He came by with some fish to clean. We spent four hours together before he died. I got to say goodbye to him.’’

Praytor said her son, had he lived, would have been able to see his new daughter, Anna Belle Chris Erin Lucas, who was born on Sept. 16.

“I have put together a scrapbook for her of all the stories and things that have been said about Chris,’’ she said. “I have a videodisc of the president’s speech. I was there for that speech. When (President Barack Obama) started talking about Chris, I thought, how does he know about my son? I could not believe it.

“I will show the scrapbook and video to her some day. This is what your daddy did.’’

Praytor said NPC International Inc., the world’s largest Pizza Hut franchisee, has created an award in her son’s name.

“It’s the Chris Lucas Courage and Service Award,” she said. “It’s for managers who have went above the call. It feels so good. NPC has done so much for us.’’

Both of NPC’s restaurants on Main Street and Range Line Road were in the path of the tornado.  

“Reopening these two restaurants is very bittersweet,” said Jim Schwartz, president of NPC International. “While we are excited to open these two new great-looking restaurants, it also reminds us of the tragedy from just one year ago. I am incredibly proud of our team members for the strength, perseverance and respect they have shown throughout this re-building process.”

Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said Pizza Hut has roots in Joplin that extend back 40 years. He said Pizza Hut’s commitment to return so quickly is an example of the strength of Joplin’s business community. Pizza Hut, he said, is among more than 400 returning businesses.

Deedra Biggers, now manager of the Carthage Pizza Hut, was working with Lucas the night of the tornado. She survived in the cooler.

“I did not see it coming,” she said. “Chris and I had stepped outside to call our families about the storm. We thought it was going to the north. I remember seeing him talking to a man on the parking lot who was from Florida. Chris wanted him to come inside. He wanted to stay outside to see the storm.

“The next thing I remember is Chris saying: ‘It’s here — run.’ I told people in the kitchen to get into the cooler. We did not have a lot of reaction time.

 “Then, the building exploded all at once. There was nothing.’’

Biggers said it was her understanding that the man from Florida did not survive.

Biggers, who has three small children, said she and Lucas were planning to take their children fishing.

“When I think of Chris, I think of his smile and a guy who really liked to fish,’’ she said. “I remember how we held onto each other to keep from flying out of the cooler. What he did that night did not surprise me at all. He was that kind of guy.’’



Plaques

The company has placed plaques inside and outside of the restaurant that read: “In remembrance of our Pizza Hut family and friends lost in the Joplin tornado of May 22, 2011. We will never forget.’’

1
Text Only
May 2011 Joplin tornado
  • r041414wildwood.jpg Opening of nursing home another recovery milestone

    Gladys Dutton has done a lot of things in her life, but Monday’s dedication of the Communities at Wildwood Ranch nursing home marked a first. “I’ve never cut a ribbon before,” she said. “I hope I do a good job.” Dutton was one of four residents to participate in the opening of the $8.5 million nursing center that eventually will be home to 120 people.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • 052212 unity walk1_72.jpg SLIDESHOW: One year later, One day of unity, updated Photos from a day of events commemorating the May 22, 2011 tornado anniversary

    May 22, 2012 1 Photo

  • Joplin Redevelopment Corp. preparing for first property sale

    The first sale of property from the Joplin Redevelopment Corp. to Wallace Bajjali Development Partners is scheduled for May 16. The city staff will be working to prepare for that sale, it was discussed on Tuesday at a meeting of the JRC.

    April 9, 2014

  • Issues prompt pair to seek help from city; allocations approved for repairs in tornado zone

    Two people spoke to the Joplin City Council on Monday night about issues they would like the city government to address. Elizabeth Clement, a Neosho resident who works in Joplin, asked the city to operate more surveillance in parking lots because of the number of cars stolen. She said her car was stolen from the parking lot at Northpark Mall and used in robberies.

    April 7, 2014

  • National institute releases final report on Joplin tornado

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology on Friday released a final report into the technical investigation of the May 22, 2011, tornado that struck Joplin — the deadliest tornado in the United States in the 64 years that official records have been kept.

    March 28, 2014

  • r031814tornadofunds2.jpg Local tornado fund board cites appreciation, accomplishments

    The 991 donations ranged from $1 to $119,000. They came from all over the world. On Tuesday, the managers of the Joplin Tornado First Response Fund gave an accounting of how those donations, which totaled about $995,950 with interest, were given in 41 grants, recipients of which included 27 local agencies.

    March 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Dan Riddell 0604013.jpg Farmers Insurance extends tornado recovery commitment

    After investments that included stationing a company executive in Joplin for eight months last year, officials with Farmers Insurance said the company will continue its post-tornado commitment to Joplin in 2014. “We’re going to stay until the end,” said Doris Dunn, director of community relations for the company, on Wednesday. “That includes sending in another 100-plus volunteers and making some additional financial investments.”

    February 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • r021714rescuedog.jpg Author prepares for release of children’s book featuring heroic Joplin rescue dog

    Carolyn Mueller is both a dog lover and a storyteller. So when she got the opportunity to write a story about a Joplin dog named Lily who helped search for survivors after the May 2011 tornado, she jumped on it. “Dogs like Lily can be heroes, too,” she said.

    February 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • VIDEO: Lost photos claim day to be held at museum

    National Disaster Photo Rescue and the Joplin Museum Complex have scheduled a public viewing and photo claim day for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the museum complex in Schifferdecker Park. The project, originally known as Lost Photos of Joplin, was organized in the weeks after the May 22, 2011, Joplin tornado to reunite storm victims with photos displaced by the storm.

    February 4, 2014

  • Building-permit total since tornado nears $1 billion

    The building of new homes in Joplin continues at an average pace of 16 to 18 per month, according to a building permit report released for December by the city of Joplin. Eighteen building permits for new homes were issued in both November and December. In fiscal year 2013, permits for new homes averaged more than 16 per month.

    January 31, 2014

Purchase Globe Photos


Featured Ads
Facebook
Tornado: Multimedia coverage
Tornado: Obituaries
Tornado: Columns
Tornado: Mike Pound
Tornado: Lists of missing, fatalities & relief
Tornado: Donate & volunteer
Tornado: Resources & relief