Cookies

This Website use Cookies OK

Read more Crime News

Landlord, two others to stand trial in 2015 East Village gas explosion that killed restaurant worker, customer

2019-09-03

Maria Hrynenko, left, Athanasios Ioannidis and Dilber Kukic appear in Manhattan Supreme Court on Friday, March 30, 2018. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)

A manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide trial begins this week for an East Village landlord and two workers accused of rigging an illegal gas line that triggered a hellish March 2015 explosion that killed two people.

Prosecutors charge that Maria Hrynenko, 59, owner of a five-story residential building at 121 Second Ave. that housed a sushi restaurant on the ground level, and her general contractor, Dilber Kukic, 44, manipulated the building’s gas system to maintain service to tenants and avoid losing rent during a renovation project.

Kukic then tapped unlicensed plumber Athanasios (Jerry) Ioannidis, 63, to extend a gas delivery system from an existing feed to the restaurant, according to prosecutors.

The pair later “improvised” a shoddy system to funnel gas to Hrynenko’s building next door, at 119 Second Ave., heightening the risk, prosecutors charge.

Prosecutors charge the faulty rejiggering caused a massive explosion on March 26, 2015 that leveled the building. Nicholas Figueroa, 23, who was on a lunch date at the Sushi Park restaurant, and Moises Yucon Lac, 26, a restaurant worker, both died as a result, according to investigators.

The blast also ignited a huge fire that consumed a pair of adjacent properties.

Jury selection is set to start Tuesday, and the trial could last as long as three months in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Hrynenko, Kukic and Ioannidis are charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and several counts of assault in connection to 13 injured victims.

The defense is expected to argue that tampering was not the root cause of the explosion.

“I think the DA is going to try and show that there were all these irregularities regarding the gas piping,” said Kukic’s lawyer Marc Agnifilo. “None of that is what caused the gas to leak.”

Instead, he said, the gas leak came from the restaurant’s kitchen where workers heard a “hissing.”

“They smelled gas for months prior to the explosion. It was not a one-time thing,” Agnifilo said.

If the fire started in the kitchen, the defendants are expected to argue that couldn’t be blamed because their potential liability would have been isolated to basement operations.

“I don’t think the DA will ever really conclusively pinpoint what the problem was, where the gas came from,” Agnifilo told the Daily News.

Plumber Andrew Trombettas, 60, pleaded guilty in March to rubber-stamping work on the property prior to the explosion. Hrynenko’s 31-year-old son Michael, who allegedly helped orchestrate the deadly work, died in 2017.