A suspect has been charged with arson after allegedly setting a New York City LGBTQ+ bar on fire.
On the evening of 3 April, the queer establishment Rash Bar went up in flames after a suspect entered the venue and poured a bottle of flammable liquid on the floor.
Three people were inside when the building became engulfed in flames, one of whom was transported to a nearby hospital with minor burns.
Shortly after committing the crime, the unidentified individual fled the scene.
However, on 14 April, authorities identified and charged John Lhota as the prime suspect of the heinous crime.
According to a press release from the US Attorney’s office, the 24-year-old was arrested on 13 April and made his initial court appearance on 14 April – where he pleaded not guilty.
“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,” said the United States Attorney Breaon Peace.
“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.”
If the 24-year-old is convicted of arson, he could face a minimum sentence of seven years and a maximum of 40 years in prison.
🚨WANTED for ASSAULT: On 4/3/22 at approx. 9:20 PM, inside Rash Bar 941, Willoughby Ave @NYPD83PCT Brooklyn. The suspect poured gasoline on the floor, lit it & fled the location. Two victims suffered injuries. Any info call us at 800-577-TIPS Reward up to $3,500 pic.twitter.com/a33Bun7sGA
— NYPD Crime Stoppers (@NYPDTips) April 7, 2022
In an interview with the New York Times, Rash Bar owner Jake Sillen revealed that their business is “completely destroyed” while also expressing their relief over the recent arrest.
“We’re definitely feeling a lot safer over here. A few of us basically had gotten a hotel room and gone into hiding because we were sort of so afraid,” they explained.
Tyler Glenn, who was one of the two staff members hurt in the fire, told the publication that they had finished training another bartender when they noticed an unusual fog in the club.
“My thought process was like, ‘Oh, the smoke machine – they really turned it up for the party that’s about to happen,'” they said. “I got up there and it’s hard to breathe. I turn, and there’s just a giant fire.”
Glenn went on to say that they experienced burns on their lips and nose.
Due to the immense damage, the Rash Bar owners created a GoFundMe with a $200,000 goal to restore the business and raise funds for its employees.
“We still don’t know what to make of this cruel act of violence,” the campaign explains. “In only five short months, we were privileged to become home to such a talented and vital community of artists. It breaks our hearts that anyone would seek to threaten that for any reason.”
Click here to donate to Rash Bar’s GoFundMe account.