The owner of Sushi Park at 121 Second Avenue, Hyeonil Kim, told the Times that he and his employees reported a gas leak back in August. Con Edison responded and found that "gas intended for the restaurant was being siphoned off — he called it illegal gas-tapping — for use in the newly renovated apartments upstairs."
The landlord, Maria Hrynenko, then sent a plumber to fix the pipes, which resulted in a brief interruption of gas service for the tenants upstairs.
Kim told the Times that he suspected that the landlord began siphoning gas from the property she owned next door, 119 Second Avenue, the former space of East Noodle & Izakaya.
After smelling gas again on Thursday, Kim called the landlord; her son Michael Hrynenko and a contractor, Dilber Kukic, then went down into Sushi Park's basement to find the leak when the explosion occurred. Hrynenko and roughly two dozen others were injured in the blast. Nicholas Figueroa, who was on a date at Sushi Park, and the restaurant's busboy, Moises Ismael Locón Yac, are still missing.
Authorities later determined that Kukic lacked the proper permits to work on gas lines. A tenant of 121 Second Avenue showed the Times a text message from the landlord instructing him to contact her with any gas issues, a request that the owner of Sushi Park also followed:
“I know everyone is blaming me for this,” Mr. Kim said. He said some people blame him or the manager for not calling 911. “But who would call 911 when you know there is plumbing work going on?” he said. “Asking the landlord what was going on would be the best way to handle the situation.”
ABC reports that other tenants received the same instructions from the landlord as early as Thursday morning, before Con Ed was due on premises for an inspection, and noted that the requests "could be a key indicator that someone knew the gas piping might not be up to code." The Manhattan DA and the Department of Investigation are now "fully engaged" in investigating the explosion, the report states.