By Holly Dutton
Two weeks after a gas explosion leveled three East Village buildings, investigators are still putting the pieces together to figure out what exactly caused it, and who is to blame.
After the explosion triggered a fire that engulfed three buildings on the afternoon of March 26, reports seemed to put the blame on the building landlord, Maria Hrynenko.
Reports said she allegedly had her son, Michael Hrynenko, Jr. and a contractor, Dilber Kukic, illegally tap into a gas line in the ground floor restaurant of 121 2nd Avenue to heat the residential units on the higher floors.
On Monday, an unidentified plumber reportedly admitted to illegally tapping into a gas line at 121 Second Avenue at the landlord’s son’s request.
The landlord has not spoken out about the tragedy, but her former lawyer blamed Con Ed for the explosion and told media that Hrynenko was not aware of anything illegal going on.
That lawyer is no longer representing her. She could not be reached for comment.
A Last August, ConEd shut off gas lines at the building at 121 Second Avenue for 10 days after they discovered the lines had been tampered with, a spokesperson for the utility company said.
Con Edison personnel were at the site of the blast to evaluate work the building plumber was doing inside 121 Second Avenue in connection with a gas service upgrade before the explosion occurred, the company said in a statement. The work failed ConEd’s inspection for several reasons, including insufficient spacing for the installation of the meter in the basement.
“It is possible you can have criminally negligent homicide,” said Colin Kaufman, a partner at Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., about what Hrynenko and the other parties could face as a result of the investigation.
That charge is classified as an E felony and holds a maximum of four years in prison.
Kaufman added that it’s also possible that someone could be charged with reckless manslaughter.
“You have to have two things in criminal prosecutions; an act, or ‘actus reus,’ and a mental state, or ‘mens rea’,” he said. “The difference between the two charges – negligence is failure to appreciate risk, and reckless is knowing it’s there but proceeding nonetheless.
“It all depends on what they can show circumstantially about the state of mind of the plumber and owner,” he said.
Kaufman expects law enforcement to conduct a grand jury investigation, which could last a month, and if there are indictments handed down, a trial could take around a year, unless someone pleads guilty.
And while the investigation continues, attorney Adam Leitman Bailey said tenants from the buildings that were destroyed are looking for an attorney to help them sue for personal property damage.
Tenants that have rent-regulated leases have the right to move back in after a building is built there. However, tenants at the building without rent-regulated leases may be subject to having their leases canceled by the landlord, said Bailey.
Two women who lived nearby at 129 Second Avenue became the first to file suit over the incident, filing a lawsuit in Bronx Supreme Court asking $20 million each for physical and emotional distress as a result of the explosion, according to the New York Post.
Defendants include Con Edison, Hrynenko, Kukic and Hyeonil Kim, owner of the destroyed Sushi Park restaurant.
A funeral was held for one of the victims of the blast, 23-year-old Nicholas Figueroa, in Washington Heights Tuesday (yesterday).
Aside from the criminal outcome, Bailey expects developers will be crawling all over the East Village site where the buildings once stood. Said Bailey. “I would put a major bet that there will be a tall skyscraper on that corner and that they’ll buy out the rent-regulated tenants.”