It's been over a year since a huge gas explosion destroyed three buildings in the East Village, killed two people, and injured dozens of others, and the lawsuits just keep on coming. Yesterday, 36 people who lost their homes in the explosion sued the city, Con Edison, the buildings' owner and facilities manager, and the sushi restaurant where the two victims of the explosion were killed, among others, alleging negligence, recklessness, and carelessness, and accusing them of "relying upon an illogical and antiquated system of enforcement, inspections, and unreliable self-certification."
The lead plaintiff on the case is actress Drea de Matteo, best known for her recurring role as Adriana La Cerva on The Sopranos, who lost her apartment at 123 Second Avenue following the blast. That building, along with 119 and 121 Second Avenue, was destroyed in the explosion, which also severely damaged 125 Second Avenue. Like de Matteo, all of the plaintiffs were residents of the buildings that were either destroyed or damaged so much they were rendered unlivable.
"For 22 years that was my home, my children's home," de Matteo told the Daily News. "We lost every memory, photograph, hard drive...We lost everything from my childhood through my adulthood. And my kids still don't understand they can never go back there."
In the aftermath of the explosion, many of the plaintiffs on this suit set up crowdfunding pages to help them recover from the loss of their homes and belongings. Many of them had been longtime tenants of rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments, like Diane McLean, who'd lived in her apartment at 119 Second Avenue for 36 years, and was suddenly left homeless, with her three young children. Her GoFundMe page raised over $100,000, and she was eventually able to relocate to Bushwick.
The 356-page lawsuit names as a defendant every person who was indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney earlier this year, and states that "each and every defendant had actual and constructive notice of a dangerous and defective condition at the premises which resulted in the incident." It's also accusing the city of "failing to observe significant and dangerous 'red flags' and malfeasance on the part of the owners, managers, and contractors, at the building."
As the DA alleged in that indictment, building owner Maria Hrynenko and her son Michael were so eager to rent their newly renovated apartments at 121 and 119 Second Avenue that they illegally installed four flexible rubber hoses running from the gas meter in 121's basement up to the apartments, rather than waiting on ConEd's approval of gas meters. ConEd discovered the unsafe setup in 2014 and shut it down, but according to the DA, the Hrynenkos set up yet another unsafe system, this time tapping gas lines at 119 Second Avenue.
In advance of a ConEd inspection scheduled for March 26, 2015, they allegedly shut off the gas line to avoid catching inspectors' attention, and opened gas valves in the basement of 121 in the hope of passing the inspection, prosecutors said. After the visit, Michael Hrynenko and Dilber Kukic, the general contractor, allegedly turned the illegal gas line back on—but they didn't re-close the valves they'd opened. About 25 minutes after they turned the gas back on, a worker at Sushi Park smelled gas and notified the building owner, but at that point it was too late: the explosion occurred minutes later, and claimed the lives of Nicholas Figueroa, 23, and Moises Locon, 26, who were inside the sushi restaurant at the time.
No one affiliated with Sushi Park was indicted by the DA, but this lawsuit alleges that the restaurant and its owner used "certain gas lines for the operation of its business," and was therefore aware of the sketchy gas line hookup before the explosion.
Scott Agulnick, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said that "this was a tragic occurrence, and those responsible, by way of their actions or inactions, will be held accountable. Our mission is to obtain justice for our clients so that they can rebuild their lives and move forward, while always remembering those innocent lives that were forever lost that day."
Con Edison said that it will handle the suit in court, and a spokesperson said that the city's Law Department will review the complaint. The myriad other defendants in the case couldn't be reached for comment.