A suspect has been arrested for starting a fire that injured two people at Bushwick’s Rash, a popular nightclub within the city’s LBGTQ+ community.
John Lhota, 24, was captured on security video purchasing a red gas canister at a service station and filling it with gasoline, on the evening of Apr. 3, the US Department of Justice announced on April 14.
He then went to Rash, on the ground floor of a multi-story building at 94 Willoughby Ave., where he allegedly poured gasoline over the floor of the bar. Security video then shows him tossing a lit cigarette on the floor, but the gasoline did not ignite. In the video, the arsonist is seen using a cigarette lighter to ignite the gasoline, causing an explosion and a fire.
Two employees of Rash were injured in the blaze, including a 25-year-old who was sent to Wyckoff Hospital with minor burns and another person who was checked for minor shoulder burns. The bar had not yet open at the time of the attack.
“This Office strongly condemns such acts of violence and will vigorously prosecute this case,” said attorney Breon Peace in a statement. “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.”
According to New York’s latest Criminal Justice Research Report, anti-LGBT crimes accounted for almost 15 percent of the hate crimes reported between 2015 and 2019.
Much of the club, located on the ground floor of a residential building, was destroyed by the fire. It remains closed until further notice.
In addition to starting the fire at Rash, Lhota stands accused of assaulting a woman in his apartment building just three days before the attack, according to court documents.
If convicted, Lhota faces a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment or a maximum of 40 years. The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Section. Assistant United States Attorney John O. Enright is in charge of the prosecution.
“This makes me feel a lot safer,” bar co-owner Jake Sillen told Brooklyn Paper. “We’ve been living in fear.”
Rash’s owners have launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for staffers who’ve suddenly lost wages, as well as for the forthcoming process of rebuilding the bar. The fund has so far hauled in more than $108,000 toward a goal of $200,000.
“We’re definitely going to come back from this,” Sillen told Gay City News after the incident.