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Trial Begins For Building Owner, 2 Others In Deadly East Village Explosion

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The trial for the deadly 2015 East Village explosion got underway Monday.

Two people were killed and more than a dozen were injured in the blast.

CBS2's Alice Gainer was in the courtroom for opening statements.

The site of that explosion is under construction, and the street is also renamed for one of the victims.

Prosecutors and three defense attorneys gave their opening statements. They disagree on who is to blame.

Moises Locon, Nicholas Figueroa
Moises Locon and Nicholas Figueroa (Family photo/Facebook)

Busboy Moises Locon was one of two people killed in the blast, which ripped through the restaurant Sushi Park. His brother told the court they had to identify him using DNA.

Nicholas Figueroa was also killed in the blast. He was at the restaurant on a date.

"From the day he was born 'til the day he died, he did everything good and I wish he was here," his father, Nixon Figueroa, said. "Step by step, we'll get to that point, and we'll get some justice for what these people did to my son."

Building owner Maria Hrynenko, general contractor Dilber Kukic and their unlicensed plumber Athanasios "Jerry" Ioannidis are all charged with second-degree manslaughter, assault, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.

They each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count.

Prosecutors say an illegal, secret gas line - a "virtual bomb lurking underneath" - was to blame.

PHOTO GALLERY: 2015 East Village Explosion

Prosecutors argue Hrynenko had newly renovated apartments to lease at $6,000 a month, but no gas to service them. Not wanting to miss out on rent, they say she leased them anyway, so with the help of their contractor and plumbers they illegally rigged up a gas line at 121 Second Ave., which set off the explosion and seven-alarm fire on March 26, 2015. The three allegedly tapped into one gas line to service the tenants in another building.

Her attorney says she hired people to do work and knows nothing about an illegal gas line.

The day of the explosion, Con Edison was actually at the site, but prosecutors allege the secret gas line was shut off during their visit.

All three defense attorneys argue the explosion happened in the kitchen of the sushi restaurant on the first floor, not the basement like prosecutors allege, and that investigators are missing evidence.

Maria Hrynenko's son Michael, who managed the building's facilities and also faced charges, died in 2017. A fifth defendant, licensed plumber Andrew Trombettas, pleaded guilty in March to lesser charges.

The blast ripped apart four buildings on Second Avenue at East Seventh Street. The facade of one of the buildings was blown clear across the street, and video showed another building completely collapsing to the ground.

The explosion also left dozens of residents homeless.


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