An East Village gas explosion that destroyed three buildings and killed two people — while injuring more than a dozen more — has led to criminal charges against five people.
After a nearly 11-month-long investigation into the Second Avenue blast that occurred on March 26 at 121 Second Ave., authorities have arrested and charged Maria Hrynenko, 56, her son Michael Hrynenko, 30, Athanasios Ioannidis, 59, Dilber Kukic, 40, and Andrew Trombettas, 57, in connection to the deadly gas explosion.
The five individuals face charges of manslaughter in the second degree, criminally negligent homicide, assault in the second degree, and offering a false instrument in the first degree, among others.
“The seven-alarm fire that killed two people and engulfed three buildings in March 2015 was caused by a foreseeable, preventable, and completely avoidable gas explosion,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance. “Development, construction, and renovation is happening across the City at breakneck speed. In this market, the temptation for property owners, contractors, and managers to take dangerous— and, in some instances, deadly — shortcuts has never been greater."
According to prosecutors, in 2013 Maria Hrynenko hired Kukic as a general contractor to renovate several of her properties in the city, including 121 Second Ave. — a five-story building with four floors of residential housing and a street-level restaurant called Sushi Park.
Kukic then hired Ioannidis to conduct plumbing work at the location, authorities said. Ioannidis — who was not professionally licensed — allegedly paid his former partner, Trombettas, to use his master plumbing license and professional credentials to submit required documents to the city's Department of Buildings and Con Edison.
Trombettas never went to 121 Second Ave. and is accused of renting his license to Ioannidis and others, helping to file false paperwork, authorities said.
Then in early 2014, Hrynenko entered into lease agreements with tenants for all the apartments at the Second Avenue building — which was managed by her son Michael — however at the time Con Ed had not yet approved the installation of gas metters for the units, according to prosecutors.
In July of that same year, Hrynenko told Kukic that gas which would go to the apartments should be taken from Sushi Park's gas meter, authorities said. Ioannidis then illegally connected flexible hosing to the restaurant's gas meter to provide gas for the tenants, who were not informed of the source.
An investigation by Con Ed and FDNY showed that the set up was unsafe and could likely disconnect, break or leak, prosecutors said. Con Ed turnd off the gas supply, leaving both the restaurant and apartment building without gas. Hrynenko was advised to hire a licensed plumber to fix the problem.
Instead, a second illegal and unsafe gas delivery system was created, authorities said, by installing a series of pipes and valves connecting the units of the building to an uncapped, commercial-grade gas meter in the neighboring, vacant site at 119 Second Ave. — also owned by Hrynenko. The system was set up in the back of the building basement and behind locked doors, hidden from everyone.
While building the gas delivery system, the accused failed to obtain proper permits, submit gas tests to Con Ed and DOB, install fire stopping material to impede the spread of fire between buildings and floors, put protective sleeving between foundation walls, and support the piping with proper brackets, authorities said.
In order to stop anyone from touching the system, Ioannidis also allegedly removed the handles of shut-off valves that controlled the gas flow, limiting the ability to determine whether gas valves were closed or open.
In August 2014, Ioannidis, who was using Trombettas' license, sent a confirmation to Con Ed claiming that a pressure test on the restaurant’s gas meter had been performed successfully, according to prosecutors. By mid-April, Con Ed restored gas to the restaurant, while upstairs tenants continued to receive gas by way of the illegal gas delivery system.
On March 26, 2015 at about 2 p.m., Con Ed employees arrived at 121 Second Ave. to perform an inspection. Before the inspection, Ioannidis and Kukic shut off the gas supply connecting 119 and 121 Second Ave. and opened the shut-off valves, authorities said. Con Ed did not approve the installation due to several deficiencies with the proposed gas meter location.
After failing the inspection, Kukic and Hrynenko's son went down into the building basement and turned on the gas supply from 119 Second Ave. without checking whether the gas valves were open, prosecutors said. The shut-off valves, which were open, caused gas to flow through the pipes and out of the uncapped meter bars into the restaurant.
At about 3 p.m., a Sushi Park employee smelled gas and notified Hrynenko, who told Kukic to check on what was causing the smell. According to authorities, surveillance footage shows Kukic and Michael Hrynenko entering the Sushi Park basement and then quickly running out of the restaurant without warning any of the patrons or workers. They instead ran towards the East 7th Street entrance to the building basement, where the illegal gas delivery system was set up.
The gas that had been flowing through the pipes then ignited and caused an explosion, authorities said.
Moises Locon, a busboy at Sushi Park, and Nicholas Figueroa, a diner, who were both inside the restaurant at the time of the explosion, were killed. Their bodies were pulled from the rubble at the site three days after the explosion.
At least 13 other individuals — including two FDNY battalion chiefs — suffered serious injuries from the explosion, which destroyed adjacent properties and led to the collapse of the properties at 119, 121, and 123 Second Ave.
“Last March, we saw that when the callous choice is made to put money before common sense and safety, innocent people lose their lives," FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. "The defendants’ actions displayed a total disregard for the laws and rules in place to protect all New Yorkers — both residents and first responders."
If convicted of the highest charge of manslaughter in the second degree, Hrynenko, her son, Ioannidis, and Kukic face up to 15 years in prison. All five individuals were expected to be arraigned in New York State Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon.