NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Indictments have been handed up in connection with last year’s deadly East Village explosion.
Five people, including the building owner, face manslaughter and other charges in connection with the blast that killed two people and left more than a dozen others injured, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced Thursday.
The accused appeared before a judge and were portrayed as coldhearted people driven by greed and unconcerned about public safety, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
The landlords wanted to get tenants into the $6,000-a-month apartments as quickly as possible, so with the help of their contractor and plumbers, Vance said, they illegally rigged up a gas line at 121 Second Ave., which set off the explosion and seven-alarm fire on March 26, 2015.
“When you tinker with the gas system and the electrical hookups as happened here, you have in effect “weaponized” the building, and you could be held accountable for the harm you inflict,” Vance said.
The blast ripped apart four buildings on Second Avenue at East Seventh Street. The facade of one of the buildings was blown clear across the street, and video showed another building completely collapsing to the ground.
Seven months before the explosion, Con Ed shut down gas at the building due to the use of illegal flex hose connections, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported. According to the indictment, a second illegal gas hookup was later made behind the door of a locked closet in the basement, tapping into the building next door.
The day of the explosion, Vance said the general contractor and the building manager “went down to the basement, they smelled the gas, and then they sprinted out of the building without alerting people” at a ground-floor restaurant, where two people were killed.
Photos: East Village Explosion
Vance said the tragedy was “foreseeable, preventable and completely avoidable.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the defendants “showed a blatant and callous disregard for human life.”
“We are heartened that today these defendants will be brought to justice and forced to answer for their criminal actions,” de Blasio said in a statement.
Building owner Maria Hrynenko, 56; her 30-year-old son, Michael Hrynenko, who managed the building’s facilities; their general contractor, 40-year-old Dilber Kukic; and their unlicensed plumber, 59-year-old Athanasios Ioannidis, are all charged with second-degree manslaughter, assault, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.
They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count.
A fifth defendant, licensed plumber Andrew Trombettas, faces lesser charges, for allegedly lending his license to Ioannidis to file paperwork, Vance said.
“He farmed out his license for a quick buck,” said Mark Peters, commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation. “He faked documents suggesting he was on the job checking out the work when he never really was.”
The district attorney said the indictments send a strong message that creating shortcuts can have deadly consequences and result in prison time, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported.
Some East Village residents applauded the indictments.
“Justice needs to be served, especially in New York, where people do shady dealings all the time,” said Asaf Ratman. “People need to realize you can’t get away with things of this nature.”
Given the heartbreak and the anger over the deaths and injuries, defense attorneys are already raising concerns about getting a fair trial.
“It’s not helpful listening to have Mayor de Blasio slam the defendants and other things like that that can hurt a fair trial, for sure,” said Mark Bederow, Kukic’s attorney.
The explosion also left dozens of residents homeless, prompting relief efforts from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City as well as several other fundraising endeavors.