NEW YORK CITY (WPIX) – A 24-year-old man in New York City allegedly doused the floor of a Brooklyn LGBTQ+ bar with gasoline, threw a lit cigarette on it and then ignited the gasoline with a lighter, causing an explosion and a fire, officials said.
Police arrested John Lhota on Wednesday in connection with the April 3 arson allegations. United States Attorney Breon Peace said his office would vigorously prosecute the case.
“As alleged, Lhota deliberately set fire to a bar and nightclub patronized by members of the LGBTQ+ community, seriously injuring two of its employees, and endangering all present including the tenants of the building as well as the first responders who battled the blaze for approximately one hour,” Peace said. “The victims, and all LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, should be able to enjoy their nights out in peace and without fear of such a dangerous attack.”
Security video shows Lhota buying a red gas canister and filling it on the evening of April 3, prosecutors said. He allegedly brought it to Rash — the club — and started a fire.
Cameras at Rash captured the suspect dumping fuel inside the bar while another person stood in the background, seemingly unaware. The suspect ignited the fuel with a lighter, sparking a violent blaze.
“All the people in the bar suddenly rushed out screaming. I looked behind me … and there were enormous flames up to the ceiling. I was in disbelief,” Rash owner Claire Bendiner previously told WPIX.
Two Rash employees were injured badly enough that they required hospitalization. The fire also caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, Bendiner said.
Lhota faces a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years behind bars if found guilty. He could face up to 40 years of imprisonment if convicted.