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Contractor Who Survived East Village Blast Being Eyed by Investigators

By  James Fanelli and Janon Fisher | March 27, 2015 7:29am | Updated on March 27, 2015 1:09pm

 Dilber Kukic
Dilber Kukic
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NEW YORK CITY — A Bronx-based general contractor miraculously survived the massive explosion that ripped through four buildings in the East Village — but he's not out of trouble just yet.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office and other agencies are investigating whether contractor Dilber Kukic, 39, played a role in the blast that started at 121 Second Ave., sources said.

Kukic — whose construction firm performed work at the address in the past year — was already under the scrutiny of Manhattan prosecutors in an unrelated case. He was arrested last month for an alleged role in a widespread bribery scandal involving city inspectors.

Kukic told DNAinfo New York in an exclusive interview on Thursday that he and the son of the owner of 121 Second Ave. had just opened the building’s basement door to check a gas odor when the room blew up, knocking them off their feet and sending debris raining down on them.

“As soon as we opened the basement door, there was an explosion, a fire,” Kukic said in a phone interview while he was being treated at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center. “It was full of smoke. The debris was on top of me.”

Kukic said in the seconds after the explosion, as flames singed his hair, he managed to get his bearings and carry Michael Hrynenko, 29, out of the buildings.

“I helped the owner’s son, to pick him up and carry him outside,” said Kukic, who suffered burns and smoke inhalation.

Hrynenko, whose mother, Maria, owns 121 Second Ave. and 119 Second Ave., was seriously injured and was also being treated at New York Presbyterian.

“He’s awake but he’s hurt,” Kukic said.

Officials said the explosion caused two buildings to collapse and left two others engulfed in flames. Twelve people were injured, officials said, and three were in critical condition.

Kukic, a general contractor at Bronx firm Neighborhood Construction, said it was just bad luck that he was there for the explosion.

His firm had performed plumbing and partition wall work at 121 Second Ave., but finished the job six months ago. He said his firm didn’t do any work on the basement.

The explosion happened around 3:15 p.m. on Thursday, but Kukic had been at the building about an hour earlier for a plumbing inspection.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference that Con Edison workers had also been at the site around 2 p.m. to inspect a newly installed meter, but they did not approve the work.

Kukic said that he left the building and was speaking with Hrynenko when the building owner called her son to say she received complaints about the smell of gas on the property.

“I just happened to be in the area,” he said. “We smell gas in the basement. We walk down. We opened the door and, explosion, [we] fell down.

“I don’t know what happened."

NYPD detectives also spoke to him Thursday night about the explosion and his narrow escape from death.

At a Friday press conference, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said that Kukic had been "very helpful" with investigators. Boyce also said that Kukic used a sub-contractor at 121 Second Ave. The chief declined to name the sub-contractor and said investigators were not sure if there was any wrongdoing.

The blast came just over a month after Kukic was arrested in a widespread bribery scheme involving inspectors at the Buildings Department and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, court records show.

Manhattan prosecutors accused Kukic in February of paying $600 to an undercover city investigator posing as an HPD inspector to dismiss two building violations on two properties he owns in Washington Heights.

Kukic's lawyer, Mark Bederow, declined to comment on Friday.

He pleaded not guilty to the felony charge of bribing a public servant. His case is ongoing.

In a second phone interview with DNAinfo, Kukic hung up when asked about the arrest.

Gwynne Hogan and Ben Fractenberg contributed reporting.