A Bushwick man is facing federal arson charges after allegedly setting fire to a popular queer nightclub earlier this month.
John Lhota, 24, was charged on Thursday in connection with the April 3rd blaze, which tore through the Rash nightclub in Bushwick and left two people hospitalized with burn wounds. He faces federal arson charges that carry between 7 and 40 years in prison.
The fire sent shockwaves through Brooklyn’s queer nightlife community, and was initially under investigation by the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Unit.
In a statement, Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, said the defendant “deliberately set fire to a bar and nightclub patronized by members of the LGBTQ+ community."
According to the complaint, Lhota walked into the Myrtle Avenue venue carrying a can of gasoline. Shortly before 9 p.m., the filing states, he began “splashing the gasoline around a passageway and an adjacent customer lounge area while a bartender and another person go about their business nearby.”
He then attempted to throw a lit cigarette at the gasoline, but initially failed to ignite it, later returning with a lighter and setting off a major explosion, according to the complaint.
The fire left a bartender, 25-year-old Tyler Glenn, with second degree burns on their face.
“The whole thing was in flames,” Glenn previously told Gothamist. “I was banging on the walls and I couldn’t find the door and I could feel myself about to pass out.”
Prosecutors said Lhota, who lives half a mile from the venue, was taken into custody three days after the fire on a separate domestic violence charge for allegedly assaulting a woman inside his apartment. The same woman subsequently identified Lhota as the person in surveillance footage setting fire to the Rash nightclub, according to the complaint.
An attorney for Lhota could not immediately be reached. He is expected to be arraigned Thursday afternoon.