Landlord on trial in E.V. gas explosion
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON
The prosecution will try to prove
that greed and illegally cutting
corners caused the tragic East
Village gas explosion more than three
years ago that killed two young men
and leveled three buildings.
Meanwhile, the defense will attempt
to shift the blame away from the
landlord and two contractors on trial,
putting the guilt on Con Edison — or
maybe even no one — in the shocking
disaster that rocked Second Ave. and
E. Seventh St.
That much was clear from the attorneys’
opening arguments in State
Supreme Court last week. It’s expected
the trial will last around three months.
Landlord Maria Hrynenko, general
contractor Dilber Kukic and unlicensed
plumber Athanasios “Jerry” Ioannidis
are charged with manslaughter in the
second degree and criminally negligent
homicide in the deaths of Nicholas
Figueroa and Moses Lucon Yac. Maria’s
son Michael Hrynenko also stood
to face these charges at trial but died
Maria Hrynenko owned Nos. 119
and 121 Second Ave., two of the buildings
destroyed in the explosion and
subsequent raging fi re.
On March 26, 2015, Figueroa, 23,
was on a lunch date at Sushi Park restaurant,
on the ground fl oor of 121
Second Ave., where Yac, 27, was working
as a busboy, when the explosion
occurred, killing them both from blunt
impact and smoke inhalation.
Thirteen other individuals were injured
by the blast — including a tourist
who lost an eye. For those injuries, the
three defendants are also being charged
with multiple counts of assault in either
the second or third degree.
An 18-member jury, including 12
men and six women, is hearing the
case, presided over by Judge Michael
Obus. During the trial’s fi rst day, contractor
Kukic listened through headphones
as two men took shifts translating
Assistant District Attorney Randolph
Clarke Jr. started things off by
saying the explosion happened because
of “greed undeterred.” The disaster,
he said, was caused by “an unauthorized
gas-delivery system,” O.K.’d by
Hrynenko and built by Kukic, that siphoned
gas from 119 Second Ave. and
sent it to 121 Second Ave. The result
was that “a virtual bomb was lurking”
underneath the buildings, Clarke said.
The defendants did what they did,
well knowing it was dangerous, Clarke
“The defendants took a chance. They
rolled the dice,” he said. “The fi nancial
stakes were high for all these defendants,
and that’s why they took this
The rigged-up system was hidden behind
A gas explosion on March 26, 2015, caused an inferno that destroyed
three buildings at E. Seventh St. and Second Ave. Two men were killed
in the explosion and 13 other people were injured.
a wall where Con Ed inspectors
could not see it, he stressed. To create
the illegal apparatus, they used Ioannidis,
an unlicensed plumber.
However, Clarke said, “You don’t
need a plumbing license to know that
you don’t mess with natural gas.”
Hrynenko had renovated the apartments
at 121 Second Ave. and was leasing
them, but the building lacked its
own gas connection, the A.D.A. noted.
It would be a problem if tenants didn’t
have hot water or gas for cooking. As
a result, what the defendants did, according
to the prosecutor, initially was
to hook up yellow “fl ex hoses” — typically
used to connect appliances to gas
meters — to the gas that was going to
Sushi Park restaurant. According to reports,
Sushi Park was the only part of
121 Second Ave. that was authorized to
be receiving gas.
“And surprise, surprise, there was a
leak,” Clarke said.
According to reports, following a
Con Ed inspection of that leak, resulting
in the gas being turned off for 10
days, the defendants decided to create
a hidden system to tap into the gas line
of 119 Second Ave. to service the apartments
in 121 Second Ave.
On the day of the explosion, Con Ed
inspectors again visited 119 Second
Ave. The defendants are basically accused
of trying to trick the inspectors
by manipulating the hidden controls
to affect where the gas was fl owing —
yet they allegedly left valves open that
should have been closed.
Four minutes after the inspectors
left, someone from Sushi Park called
the landlord to report a gas leak, Clarke
said. Michael Hrynenko and Kukic
promptly ran into the restaurant, then
into the basement of 119 Second Ave.
through an entrance on E. Seventh St.
“Within moments of them entering
that basement, there was an explosion,”
the prosecutor recounted.
PHOTO BY TEQUILA MINSKY
The blast happened less than a half
hour after the Con Ed inspectors left.
Clarke said there was a hole between
the two buildings through which a pipe
passed to deliver the gas from 119 to
121 Second Ave. Weeks after the explosion,
investigators sifting down through
the rubble recovered four gas valves
that were all in the open position, he
noted. Yet, he admitted, not all the gas
valves were recovered.
Michael Burke, an attorney representing
Maria Hrynenko, noted that
Michael Hrynenko was injured in the
“He was burned on his face and
body,” he said.
He said of Maria Hrynenko, “The evidence
does not indicate she was aware
of the problem.”
He added that she never wanted to
be a landlord but became one after her
husband, Michael — who ran the Kiev
restaurant, at Second Ave. and E. Seventh
St. — died in 2014. He said she
delegated the renovation work on 121
Second Ave. — budgeted at $700,000
— to licensed professionals. He noted
that Con Ed had previously twice
locked the gas valves at 119 Second
Ave., in August and September 2014,
then unlocked them each time shortly
“Con Ed has the greatest degree of
knowledge of what’s at risk,” he stated.
He said if Con Ed could not tell the
situation was dangerous, then how
could Maria Hrynenko know? He noted
that it was the utility that took the
photo — shown in court — of the gas
apparatus with the yellow fl ex tubing.
Burke said that on the day of the
explosion, Sushi Park workers turned
on four gas valves to make their lunch.
Around 2 p.m., they smelled gas.
“They heard a hissing sound in the
kitchen area…and boom, it blew up,”
Burke accused the Manhattan district
attorney of zeroing in on the basement
of 119 Second Ave., when the evidence
instead pointed to a problem with the
gas at Sushi Park.
It was “a rush to judgment,” he
charged. “They just focused on the
More to the point, he stressed, the
main gas shutoff valve was not recovered.
“They have no proof that the gas
was on or off without that valve,” he
Marc Agnifi lo, the attorney for Kukic,
noted that his client “probably
saved the life” of Michael Hrynenko
after they both ran into the basement
of 119 Second Ave. and the explosion
“Flex piping is safe,” he asserted of
the hoses that were used in the jerryrigged
gas system. “It’s used to hook up
driers, ovens. But it’s not the code for
hooking up other than appliances,” he
He said that Maria Hrynenko wasn’t
guilty of “stealing services” by gas siphoning,
since she owned both buildings.
“No one is saying they smelled gas in
the basement” of 119 Second Ave., he
stated. “They smelled gas in the kitchen
of Sushi Park and heard a loud hissing
sound from the kitchen. … There’s no
defi nitive way to know where the gas
Referring to the main shutoff valve
that was never recovered, he said, “If
that valve is closed — no explosion in
“They never fi nd the main valve,” he
stressed. “They never fi nd it, the single
most important piece of evidence in
Speaking last during the opening arguments
was Roger Blank, the attorney
for unlicensed plumber Ioannidis.
“This is an awful, terrible accident
— it is not a crime,” he asserted.
The gas system his client set up “was
installed and operating safely for eight
months,” the attorney added.
“Sometimes,” he said, “no one’s at
Accidents should be dealt with in
Civil Court, Blank said.
Sitting in the audience were
Figueroa’s parents, Nixon Figueroa and
Anna Lanza. After hearing the defense
attorneys’ opening arguments — where
they sought to shift the blame off the defendants
— she was asked by a reporter
if she felt the accused were guilty.
“Defi nitely,” she said.
This past January, Andrew Trombettas,
a licensed plumber who allowed his
license to be used to submit paperwork
for the buildings’ gas system, pleaded
guilty to offering a false instrument for
fi ling in the fi rst degree. He was sentenced
to three years’ probation with
100 hours of community service.
20 September 19, 2019 TVG Schneps Media