Victims' relatives testify as trial begins in deadly Manhattan gas explosion

EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (WABC) -- The trial began Monday for a landlord and two workers accused of rigging an illegal gas line that triggered a deadly explosion in the East Village.

Two people died in the March 2015 explosion and 13 others were injured.

Prosecutors say the landlord and workers manipulated the Second Avenue building's gas system to avoid losing rent during a renovation project.

"Unbeknownst to the people who were walking down the street, driving down the street, there was a virtual bomb lurking under the East Village," Assistant District Attorney Randolph Clarke said in his opening statement.

The building owner, 59-year-old Maria Hrynenko, of Rockland; an unlicensed plumber, 63-year-old Athanasios Ioannidis, of Queens; and the general contractor, 44-year-old Dilber Kukic, of the Bronx; face manslaughter and other charges.

The Manhattan District Attorney said seven months before the explosion, the group got caught by Con Ed for an illegal gas line made up of leak-prone plastic pipe.

They were ordered to make it safe. Instead, the DA claims they rigged another illegal gas line hidden in a locked utility room in the basement next door.

That's why Con Ed never found it, officials say, even though they were there hours before the explosion.

In all, three buildings collapsed and a fourth building was seriously damaged.

Sushi restaurant worker Moises Ismael Locon Yac and 23-year-old diner Nicholas Figueroa, who was on a date at the time, were killed.

"He was a beautiful, happy guy," dad Nixon Figueroa said. "I'm proud of having him as a son."

Officials found his body in the debris an agonizing three days later, and Nixon Figueroa, the state's first witness, described identifying his son's body and wanting to hug him one more time.

"He was a good kid," he said. "So I just want to say, I'm glad we're here and I'm going to take it step by step."

Locon Yac's brother also testified.

"They called and said the bodies had never been found," he told jurors. "When we went to the area to see where my brother's body was, they told us we wouldn't recognize him."

Defense attorneys said in their opening statement that this was a tragic incident, but that their clients are not responsible because it happened due to a prior leak in the restaurant. It's an argument the victims' families don't believe.

"They did the crime, they should pay the price by going to jail," Nixon Figueroa said.

The trial is expected last three months.

EXCLUSIVE: Video shows moment of East Village explosion

RELATED: Crews reach basement in Manhattan building explosion clean-up

-- EXCLUSIVE: Survivor of East Village explosion tells his story


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