Man charged with arson after terrifying fire left queer bar ‘completely destroyed’
A Brooklyn man has been arrested and charged with arson in connection to a fire that left a queer bar “completely destroyed”.
John Lhota, 24, is accused of pouring a canister of gasoline onto the floor of Rash nightclub in Brooklyn, New York on 3 April, according to a press release from the US attorney’s office in the eastern district of New York.
Prosecutors said that Lhota was seen on security video purchasing a red gas canister at a service station before filling it with gasoline. He then travelled to the LGBT+ venue where he allegedly “poured gasoline over the floor of the bar” while staff were finishing up for the night.
According to authorities, Lhota then tossed a lit cigarette on the floor. When that did not cause a fire, he allegedly “used a cigarette lighter to ignite the gasoline”, causing an “explosion and a fire”.
Prosecutors said additional security video captured Lhota allegedly “fleeing the burning nightclub”.
Emergency services quickly responded and extinguished the blaze in about an hour. But two members of Rash staff were injured in the fire and treated for burns.
Prosecutors have charged Lhota with arson. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment, and a maximum of 40 years’ in prison for the terrifying incident.
US attorney Breon Peace said, as alleged, Lhota “deliberately set fire” to a venue patronised by members of the LGBT+ community, “seriously injured” two Rash employees and “endangered all present including the tenants of the building” as well as first responders.
“This office strongly condemns such acts of violence, and will vigorously prosecute this case,” 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.”
Lhota appeared in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Thursday (14 April) and pleaded not guilty, the New York Times reported. A judge ordered that Lhota be detained.
Jake Sillen, a co-owner of Rash, told the outlet that the fire “completely destroyed”, and the incident had left staff so afraid that some had “gone into hiding” at a local hotel.
“We’re definitely feeling a lot safer over here,” Sillen said. “A few of us basically had gotten a hotel room and gone into hiding because we were sort of so afraid.”
Tyler Glenn, one of the staff members injured in the fire, told the New York Times that they had “just gotten done with the cocktail training” on their first night working at the club when another bartender asked them to “go downstairs” to “get some beer”.
Glenn said they noticed how the air had gotten foggier when they returned upstairs, and they initially thought it was just the result of a “smoke machine” that the venue had turned up for a part that was “about to happen”.
“I got up there, and it’s hard to breathe,” Glenn recalled. “I turn, and there’s just a giant fire.”
Glenn previously told the Rolling Stone that it was “so dark” and “so smokey” in the bar that they “didn’t know where the door was”. So they started “banging on the walls”.
As they were about to pass out, they managed to find the side door and run into a neighbouring bar to scream for help.
Glenn told the New York Times that their injuries, which included burns to the nose and lips, had already begun to heal.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds for refurbishment as well as medical costs associated with the terrifying incident. Currently, the online campaign has raised over $111,200 (£85,200).