Four indicted for manslaughter in E.V. gas explosion

Athanasios Ioannidis, center, and Andrew Trombettas, right, are walked by police into their arraignment on Thursday. Trombettas is accused of "renting" his plumber's license to Ioannidis, who was not a licensed a plumber and who is accused of twice rigging up illegal gas-siphoning systems to service the residential apartments at 121 Second Ave. Photo by Jefferson Siegel

Athanasios Ioannidis, center, and Andrew Trombettas, right, are walked by police into their arraignment on Thursday. Trombettas is accused of “renting” his plumber’s license to Ioannidis, who was not a licensed plumber and who is accused of twice rigging up illegal gas-siphoning systems to service the residential apartments at 121 Second Ave. Photo by Jefferson Siegel

BY YANNIC RACK | Almost a year after a gas explosion rocked the East Village, killing two men and leveling three buildings, four people were indicted this Thursday for manslaughter and other charges in connection with the blast.

Maria Hrynenko, 56, who owns the building at 121 Second Ave. where the blast occurred, her son Michael Hrynenko, 30, contractor Dilber Kukic, 40, and plumber Athanasios “Jerry” Ioannidis, 59, were also charged with criminally negligent homicide and assault in the second degree, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

In addition, Andrew Trombettas, 57, was charged with “renting” his master plumbing license to Ioannidis so he could get work on the property O.K.’d, prosecutors said.

Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance said on Thursday that the defendants set up an elaborate illegal gas line and hid the setup from inspectors, causing the explosion and subsequent fire on March 26, 2015, that claimed the lives of Moises Locón and Nicholas Figueroa and injured more than a dozen 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,” Vance said in a statement announcing the charges.

All five defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Thursday. Bail was set at $1 million for all of the defendants — except Trombettas, who must post $100,000.

The first illegal gas hook-up installed at 121 Second Ave., where prosecutors allege the landlord’s practices led to a fatal explosion last March. After Con Ed workers found this first scofflaw system and shut off the gas, a second illegal jury-rigged setup was then allegedly created —in a closet behind a locked door — prosecutors said.   Photo courtesy Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

The first illegal gas hook-up installed at 121 Second Ave., where prosecutors allege the landlord’s practices led to a fatal explosion last March. After Con Ed workers found this first scofflaw system and shut off the gas, a second illegal jury-rigged setup was then allegedly created — and concealed from view behind a locked door — prosecutors said. Photo courtesy Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

Vance added that the indictment should act as a warning to building owners and others that might be tempted to cut corners in the city’s real estate boom.

“Development, construction and renovation is happening across the city at breakneck speed,” he said.

“In this market, the temptation for property owners, contractors and managers to take dangerous — and, in some instances, deadly —shortcuts has never been greater.”

Photo by Jefferson Siegel

Landlord Maria Hrynenko, handcuffed behind her back, is walked by police into her arraignment hearing on Thursday. She allegedly gave the order for gas to be siphoned illegally to residential apartments at 121 Second Ave. Photo by Jefferson Siegel

 

On Thursday, prosecutors described an illegal scheme that involved the landlord, her son, the contractor and an unlicensed plumber, who allegedly twice installed unsafe gas systems in the basement of the building and hid the second one from inspectors after the first was found and shut off by Con Edison.

According to the indictment, Maria Hrynenko informed Kukic in July 2014 that gas for the apartments at 121 Second Ave. should be taken from the meter of the building’s ground-floor restaurant, the Japanese eatery Sushi Park.

Photo by Jefferson Siegel

Michael Hrynenko, the landlord’s son, being walked by police into his arraignment, while apparently wearing pajama bottoms. All of the defendants were rousted from their homes around 6 a.m. without having been given any advance warning. In their efforts to conceal the illegal jury-rigged gas setup, Michael Hrynenko and contractor Dilber Kukic allegedly forgot to close some valves that had been opened for a Con Ed inspection, leading to the catastrophic gas explosion that killed two men and sparked a raging inferno that ultimately destroyed three East Village tenements. Photo by Jefferson Siegel

 

Shortly thereafter, Ioannidis, the plumber, illegally connected flexible hosing to the restaurant’s meter in order to provide gas to the tenants, who were not informed of the source of the gas, according to the D.A.

But an inspection by Con Ed and the Fire Department in August 2014, triggered by residents smelling gas, revealed the setup to be unsafe and likely to disconnect, break or leak, according to prosecutors. Con Ed then turned off the gas supply, leaving both the restaurant and the upstairs tenants without gas.

But instead of hiring a licensed plumber to fix the situation, investigators said the defendants constructed another unsafe gas delivery system by installing a series of pipes and valves connecting the residential units in 121 Second Ave. to an uncapped, commercial-grade gas meter in the adjacent, vacant property at 119 Second Ave., which Hrynenko also owned.

“When Con Ed came in and shut this illegal system off with the hoses, what then happened was the creation of an alternate delivery system behind a locked door in the very same room,” Vance said at a press conference.

(left-right) Maria Hrynenko, 56, Athanasios Ioannidis, 59, Michael Hrynenko, 30, Dilber Kukic, 40 and Andrew Trombettas, 57, appear at their arraignment in Manhattan Supreme Court on Thursday, February 11, 2016. They were indicted in last year's East Village building explosion. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)

From left, handcuffed behind their backs at their arraignment in Manhattan Supreme Court on Thurs., Feb. 11, from left, Maria Hrynenko, Athanasios Ioannidis, Michael Hrynenko, Dilber Kukic and Andrew Trombettas. They were all indicted in last year’s East Village gas explosion. Photo by Jefferson Siegel

 

After Ioannidis filed paperwork with Con Ed, the company restored gas to the restaurant by mid-August, while upstairs tenants continued to receive gas by way of the defendants’ illegal gas delivery system, according to Vance.

On the day of the explosion, inspectors from Con Ed came to check the system at 119 Second Ave., but found no signs of leaking gas because Kukic and Ioannidis had temporarily turned the illegal gas line off.

After the inspectors left, officials said, Kukic and Hrynenko, the owner’s son, turned the gas back on — but failed to close several valves in the basement of 121 Second Ave. that had been opened for pressure tests by Con Ed, causing them to leak gas.

Shortly after, the manager of the restaurant allegedly called landlord Hrynenko and told her he smelled gas.

Surveillance cameras then show Kukic and Hrynenko entering the basement and then swiftly sprinting out of the restaurant without warning any of the patrons or workers, and running around toward the E. Seventh St. entrance, where the illegal gas delivery system was set up, according to prosecutors.

When the gas caused an explosion moments later, Locon, an employee of Sushi Park, and Figueroa, a diner, were killed. The ensuing raging fire quickly spread to neighboring buildings 119 and 123 Second Ave., and all three structures eventually collapsed.

“The individuals involved in the East Village gas explosion showed a blatant and callous disregard for human life,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “These indictments will hopefully bring Mr. Figueroa and Mr. Locón’s families some closure following this tragic event.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *