Nearly a year after a gas explosion in the East Village killed two and sent more than 20 people to the hospital, the Manhattan district attorney alleged that the building owners and contractors were responsible for events leading up the the fatal blast.
Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. indicted five people connected with the building today, including the landlord Maria Hrynenko and her son and the building’s manager, Michael Hrynenko Jr., along with contractor Dilber Kukic and plumbers Jerry Ioannidis and Andrew Trombettas. The prosecutor called the accident last spring at 121 Second Avenue between East Seventh Street and St. Mark’s Place a “foreseeable, preventable and completely avoidable explosion of gas” and resulted from landlord taking shortcuts to make money quicker.
“Development, construction and renovation is happening across New York City. We know it’s at a breakneck speed,” Mr. Vance said at a press conference at the DA’s office this morning, adding that the lure of financial incentives to take short cuts “has never been stronger. They have to resist the temptation to take these shortcuts. When you tinker around with the gas system…you have in fact weaponized the building.”
The mother-and-son duo, as well as Messrs. Kukic and Ioannidis, were slapped with second-degree manslaughter, negligent homicide, second-degree assault and reckless endangerment charges, Mr. Vance said. Mr. Trombettas, a licensed master plumber, was charged with offering a false instrument for filing because he received a permit to do gas work at the building for Mr. Ioannidis. If convicted of the manslaughter charge alone, the defendants face a maximum of 15 years in prison, according to Mr. Vance.
The March 26, 2015, blast ended up destroying three buildings and sent dozens of residents and diners to the hospital. Moises Locon and Nicholas Figueroa, the two men killed, were in what was a sushi restaurant when the afternoon blast occurred. Scores of firefighters responded to the scene, where buildings continued to burn for hours after the blast.
Mr. Kukic was hired in 2013 by the Hrynenkos to renovated the building, for which he subsequently hired Mr. Ioannidis to do the plumbing and gas work. But Consolidated Edison hadn’t approved the gas meters when work was completed in June 2014.
Mr. Vance alleged the owners were pressured to rent the building and devised a quick gas system with flex hoses that Con Edison soon after told the contractors to remove. As a result, the owners and workers are accused of having built a secret gas room in the neighboring 119 Second Avenue, which Ms. Hrynenkos also owned, to feed the building.
When Con Edison returned on the day of the blast to inspect the gas meter for 121 Second Avenue, Mr. Vance said Mr. Kukic opened the valves to the gas system and shut off the secret gas source. The building didn’t pass inspection, however, and Mr. Kukic is accused of turning the secret gas source back on while the mainline to the building was leaking. That’s when the blast occurred, killing Figueroa and Locon.
Within two weeks of the explosion, city officials said that the New York Police Department was investigating the blast as a possible negligent homicide. The owner and building manager were accused of illegally tapping into the gas system meant to heat the sushi restaurant in order to service upstairs tenants, Commercial Observer reported in April 2015.
New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters, who worked on the case with Mr. Vance’s office, the NYPD and the Fire Department of New York, took particular issue with Mr. Trombella’s offenses, which include a claim he made that he inspected the gas work when in fact he was actually in Greece on one occasion and in Queens on another.
“Being a licensed master plumber is a big deal,” Mr. Peters said. “It means we trust you to work with things like gas lines… [Mr.] Trombettas violated that trust and that responsibility. He farmed out his license for a quick buck.”
The defendants are due to be arraigned at 2:15 p.m. today, Mr. Vance said.