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5 Charged in Fatal Building Explosion

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

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A New York City building owner, general contractor and subcontractor are facing multiple charges in connection with a deadly building explosion in Manhattan.

Two women were killed March 26, 2015, when a major gas explosion and seven-alarm blaze reduced three buildings to rubble.

Authorities have charged building owner Maria Hrynenko, 56, and her son, Michael, 30, general contractor Dilber Kukic, 40, subcontractor Athanasios Ioannidis, 59, and master plumber Andrew Trombettas, 57, in the case.

The charges include manslaughter in the second degree, criminally negligent homicide and falsifying documents, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. announced Thursday (Feb. 11).

Prosecutors allege that parties “set up an illegal gas delivery system” that caused the explosion and fire.

Renovation Projects

According to prosecutors, two years before the explosion Hrynenko hired Kukic as a general contractor to renovate several properties in New York City, including 121 Second Avenue, described as a five-story building in the East Village that housed four residential floors and a street-level restaurant, Sushi Park.

Kukic hired Ioannidis to perform plumbing work on the building. Ionnidis, who was not professionally licensed, paid a former partner, Trombettas, to use his master plumbing credentials to submit the required paperwork to the city’s department of buildings and Con Edison, prosecutors allege.

‘Illegal Gas Delivery Systems’

In early 2014, Hrynenko began executing lease agreements with tenants for the residential apartments in the building despite the fact that Con Ed had not yet approved the installation of gas meters for residential units in the building.

Just eight months before the explosion, the parties allegedly connected flexible hosing to the restaurant’s gas meter in order to provide gas to the building’s residents, who were not informed of the source of the gas.

When an inspection revealed the setup to be unsafe, Hrynenko and the others 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 an adjacent building, also owned by Hrynenko, prosecutors said.

“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,” according to the District Attorney’s office.

“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.”

The Deadly Explosion

On the day of the explosion, two Con Ed employees performed an inspection at 121 Second Avenue, finding several deficiencies.

Prior to the inspection, prosecutors allege that Kukic and Ioannidis manipulated the gas delivery system by shutting off the gas supply connecting the two buildings and opening the shut-off valves.

At the time of the inspection there wasn’t a sign of leakage or odor, authorities said.

After failing the inspection, Kukic and Hrynenko’s son turned on the gas supply without checking as to whether the gas valves were open. The shut-off valves were open and allowed gas to flow through the pipes and out of the uncapped meter bars into the restaurant, according to prosecutors.

Less than an hour after the inspection, a Sushi Park employee smelled gas and soon thereafter the gas, which had been flowing through the pipes and out of the uncapped meter bars, ignited and caused an explosion, officials said.

Moises Locon, an employee of Sushi Park and Nicholas Figueroa, a diner, were killed in the blast. At least 13 others suffered serious injuries as the lower floors of 121 Second Avenue buckled and caught fire. The fire quickly spread destroying two other adjacent properties.

“Development, construction, and renovation is happening across the City at breakneck speed,” according to District Attorney Vance.

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


Tagged categories: Contractors; Criminal acts; Ethics; Explosions; Health and safety; Inspection; Maintenance + Renovation; North America; Renovation

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