A suspect has been arrested in connection with the arson at Brooklyn’s Rash venue, a popular nightclub within the LBGTQ+ community.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that John Lhota has been charged with arson stemming from the April 3 blaze where a masked man was witnessed pouring gasoline on the venue’s bar and lighting it on fire.
“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,” United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement.
“This Office strongly condemns such acts of violence, and will vigorously prosecute this case. 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 the complaint against Lhota, the 24-year-old was captured on security video purchasing a red canister at a service station and filling it with gasoline. He then proceeded toward Rash, where he allegedly poured the gasoline over the bar. Video then showed Lhota allegedly trying to ignite the gasoline with a lit cigarette and, when that failed, a lighter, which sparked the gasoline and caused an explosion.
Two Rash employees were hurt in the blaze, which firefighters ultimately extinguished, but not before the venue suffered heavy damages.
If convicted, Lhota faces a minimum of seven years in prison and a maximum of 40 years on the arson charge. He is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon at a Brooklyn court.
“This was a brazen act of arson that seriously injured two people, placed the lives of residents and dozens of Firefighters in grave danger, and struck fear throughout an entire community,” Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh added in a statement.
The Rash arson was the latest in a string of incidents over the past year aimed at Brooklyn venues in the LGBTQ+ nightlife community, including a stabbing at Bossa Nova Civic Club, a pepper spray bomb at Nowadays, and a brick hurled through the window at C’mon Everybody. Lhota has not been named a suspect nor charged in any of those incidents. Security video then caught Lhota fleeing Rash, which was on the ground floor with residential apartments above it.