Five New York Residents Charged in Fatal Explosion

The owner of a building where the gas explosion occurred March 26, 2015, and four others were indicted Feb. 11. They had set up an illegal gas delivery system, authorities announced.

Five New York residents were charged Feb. 11 for their roles in causing a fatal gas explosion at 121 Second Ave. in New York City on March 26, 2015. The explosion was caused by an illegal gas delivery system that the defendants created, authorities announced.

The indictments were announced by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters, and New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. Defendants Maria Hrynenko, 56; Michael Hrynenko, 30; Athanasios Ioannidis, 59; Dilber Kukic, 40; and Andrew Trombettas, 57, are charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with manslaughter in the second degree, criminally negligent homicide, assault in the second degree, and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.

"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. "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. As alleged in the indictment, the defendants created a deadly inferno fueled by an illegal gas delivery system installed at 121 Second Avenue, leading to the loss of two young lives and leaving more than a dozen others with serious, permanent injuries."

Vance added that the case "demonstrates the outstanding coordination between the NYPD, FDNY, DOI, and DOB on this investigation, and I thank our partners for their commitment to ensuring the public safety of city residents and visitors."

Bratton thanked the emergency personnel who responded to the fire and the investigators and prosecutors who developed the case against the five defendants.

According the the indictment and other documents filed in court, Maria Hrynenko hired Kukic as a general contractor to renovate several of her properties in the city, including 121 Second Avenue, a five-story building in the East Village that housed four floors of residential housing and a street-level Japanese restaurant called Sushi Park. Kukic then hired Ioannidis to do plumbing work at 121 Second, but Ioannidis, who was not professionally licensed, paid a former partner, Trombettas, to use his master plumbing license and professional credentials to submit required paperwork to the New York City Department of Buildings and Con Edison, according to the indictment, which alleges that Trombettas never went to 121 Second; he is accused of renting his license to Ioannidis and others, enabling the filing of false paperwork.

When Maria Hrynenko leased the apartments at 121 Second (which her son, Michael Hrynenko, managed) in early 2014, Con Ed had not yet approved the installation of gas meters for the building's residential units, so Maria Hrynenko in July 2014 told Kukic that gas for the apartments should be taken from Sushi Park's gas meter, according to the indictments, and Ioannidis then illegally connected flexible hosing to the restaurant's gas meter in order to provide gas to the building's tenants without their knowledge.

"A subsequent inspection performed by Con Ed and FDNY revealed the set-up to be unsafe and likely to disconnect, break, or leak. Con Ed promptly turned off the gas supply, leaving both Sushi Park and apartment tenants without gas, and advised [Maria Hrynenko] to hire a licensed plumber to rectify the situation," according to Vance's news release. "Instead, the defendants constructed another illegal, unsafe gas delivery system by installing a series of pipes and valves connecting the units in 121 Second Avenue to an uncapped, commercial-grade gas meter in the adjacent, vacant property at 119 Second Avenue, which was also owned by [Maria Hrynenko]. The system was set up in the back of the building basement, behind locked doors, hidden from Con Ed, and obscured from view by tenants, workers, and potential inspectors. While constructing the makeshift gas delivery system, the defendants failed to obtain proper permits, submit gas tests to Con Ed and DOB, install fire stopping to impede the spread of fire between buildings and floors, put protective sleeving between foundation walls, and support the piping with proper brackets. In order to prevent anyone from tampering with the system, [Ioannidis] also removed the handles of shut-off valves that controlled the gas flow, effectively limiting the ability to determine whether gas valves were closed or open and potentially enabling dangerous, multidirectional gas flow through the pipes."

In August 2014, it says, Ioannidis sent an affidavit to Con Ed claiming a pressure test on the restaurant's gas meter had been performed successfully. "By the middle of the month, Con Ed restored gas to the restaurant, while upstairs tenants continued to receive gas by way of the defendants' illegal gas delivery system. At approximately 2:00 p.m. on March 26, 2015, two Con Ed employees arrived at 121 Second Avenue to perform an inspection. Prior to the inspection, [Ioannidis and Kukic] manipulated the gas delivery system by shutting off the gas supply connecting 119 and 121 Second Avenue and opening the shut-off valves. Because of several deficiencies with the proposed gas meter location, Con Ed employees did not approve their installation. At the time, there was no sign of leakage or odor, and the full extent of the unauthorized gas delivery system remained hidden from inspectors' view. After failing the inspection, [Kukic and Michael Hrynenko] went down into the building basement and turned on the gas supply from 119 Second Avenue without checking whether the gas valves were open. The shut-off valves, which were in fact open, allowed gas to flow through the pipes and out of the uncapped meter bars into the restaurant."

About 3 p.m., a Sushi Park employee smelled gas and notified Maria Hrynenco, who instructed Kukic to check on the source of the odor. "Surveillance footage depicts [Kukic and Michael Hrynenko] entering the Sushi Park basement and then swiftly sprinting out of the restaurant without warning any of the patrons or workers and running toward the East 7th Street entrance to the building basement, where the illegal gas delivery system was set up. Soon thereafter, the gas—which had been flowing through the pipes and out of the uncapped meter bars—ignited and caused an explosion. Moises Locon, an employee of Sushi Park, and Nicholas Figueroa, a diner, who were both inside the restaurant at the time of the explosion, were killed. At least 13 other individuals suffered serious injuries as the lower floors of 121 Second Avenue buckled and caught fire, which quickly spread and destroyed adjacent properties, leading to the eventual collapse of the properties at 119, 121, and 123 Second Avenue."

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