Trial Begins in East Village Gas Explosion That Killed Two

A construction scheme to service high rent tenants created a virtual bomb, causing the 2015 gas explosion in Manhattan’s East Village that killed two people, injured 19 others and leveled three buildings, prosecutors said Monday during the start of trial.

Landlord Maria Hrynenko, 59, her general contractor, Dilber Kukic, 44, and an unlicensed plumber, Athanasios Ioannidis, 63, have been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for allegedly rigging an illegal gas line that triggered the blast on Second Avenue.

A restaurant worker and a diner in the sushi restaurant on the ground level of one of the collapsed buildings were killed in the explosion. Their badly burned bodies were discovered by rescue workers digging through the rubble days later.

Eight months before the explosion, Ioannidis used yellow flexible hosing to provide gas into the building from the restaurant’s gas meter – an unsafe hookup that prompted Consolidated Edison utility inspectors to turn off the gas, officials said.

As a workaround, the workers then installed a complex series of pipes and valves to provide a makeshift gas delivery system into one of the buildings via an uncapped gas meter in a locked room in the basement of the adjacent building, officials said.

Prosecutors said the effort was part of a scheme to service high rent tenants in a building that was undergoing renovations.

“Unbeknownst to the people who were walking down the street, driving down the street, there was a virtual bomb lurking underneath in the East Village,” Assistant District Attorney Randolph Clarke said in opening statements Monday.

Clarke said the defendants’ actions show a “blatant disregard for the well-being of others.”

The defense lawyers pointed the blame elsewhere, saying their clients did not cause the blast.

“She was not the person responsible for anything that happened that day,” said Hrynenko’s attorney, Michael Burke. “She tried to do the right thing. She tried to hire the right people.”

Kukic’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said fire marshals determined the fire started in the restaurant’s kitchen and the not the basement where prosecutors say the alleged tampering occurred.

Hryrenko’s son, Michael Hrynenko, 31, was also charged in the alleged scheme but he died in 2017 while awaiting trial. A fifth person, a licensed plumber who sold the use of his credentials to Ioannidis, pleaded guilty to lesser charges in March.