EAST VILLAGE — The family of Nicholas Figueroa, one of two men killed in the East Village gas explosion, is calling on the City Council to co-name two streets surrounding the site of the 2015 tragedy after its victims, hoping the signs bearing their names will both commemorate the loss and serve as a warning against unscrupulous landlords.
Ana Lanza, Figueroa's mother took to the streets Saturday armed with a clipboard and accompanied by her son Tyler as she went door to door to gather signatures from residents in favor of co-naming streets surrounding the site of the blast that killed her 23-year-old son and 27-year-old Moises Locon.
Lanza hopes the city will agree to name the stretch of Seventh Street between Second and Third avenues after her son and the stretch of Second Avenue between Seventh Street and St. Marks Place after Locon.
Her son, an Eagle Scout remembered as the "foundation" of his family, can never be replaced, but a commemorative plaque at the site of his death would help bring peace as she continues to grapple with the devastating loss, she said.
"It's not going to bring him back — nothing is going to bring him back," said Lanza through tears. "But at least this brings a little bit of comfort, that he's going to be remembered somewhere, somehow. That his life wasn't taken in vain. That he meant something."
The family has been in talks with Councilwoman Rosie Mendez to spearhead the co-naming campaign since shortly after the explosion, when community conversations began brewing around what could be done to honor the lives of Figueroa and Locon. Ultimately, Mendez said she would like to see the land left vacant by the blast transformed into a park or affordable housing, but must wait until current legal action surrounding the land is resolved.
Mendez had spoken to both families about the possibility of co-naming streets for their loved ones, she said, but according to local guidelines, an individual must be deceased for two years before a co-naming can be proposed in their honor. That 2-year anniversary was reached this March.
Lanza was joined by Mendez's community aide, Aura Olavarria, and City Council candidate Carlina Rivera in gathering signatures. They will continue the efforts this week in hopes of scoring nearly 300 signatures by the time the proposal is pitched before Community Board 3's Transportation Committee May 9.
City Council candidate Carlina Rivera, community aide for Councilwoman Rosie Mendez Aura Olavarria and Ana Lanza, whose son Nicholas Figueroa died in the East Village explosion, visited the site of the tragedy to gather signatures for a street co-naming Saturday. (DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs)
If the full board grants its approval, Mendez will then request City Council create legislation to codify the co-naming, which will ultimately be signed off by the mayor, said Mendez.
Figueroa's parents hope the street sign will not only serve to honor their son's memory, but will remind passersby of the landlord failures that led to the loss of life.
The owner of 121 Second Ave., Maria Hrynenko, her son Michael Hrynenko, contractor Dilber Kukic and their plumber Anthanasios Ioannidis illegally tampered with the gas line then failed to warn those in the building before the blast, according to the Manhattan District Attorney, who last year indicted the four for manslaughter in connection with the explosion.
Figueroa had been on a date at Sushi Park, a restaurant in the building where Locon worked, at the time of the explosion. The bodies of both men were pulled from the rubble days later.
"The tragedy did happen here and we want people to remember them, and [I hope] that by seeing their names people can question, why are their names up there?" said Lanza. "And if they do get the information they’ll know what happened, that it was so devastating to all of us, because someone was so inconsiderate and didn’t think of what could have happened."
Lanza's husband and Nicholas' father, Nixon Figueroa, said he hopes the sign will serve as a reminder of what devastation can be caused by such carelessness on the part of a building owner.
"This is just another remembrance of what could happen to anybody, by having that name there," he said. "Who’s gonna be next? Who's gonna have another street [with] their name? It's gotta stop. These landlords, they’re crossing the line. If nobody stops them now, who's gonna stop them?"
In addition to the criminal charges brought by prosecutors, the estate of Nicholas Figueroa last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hrynenko, the city and others involved in the building's maintenance, which is currently making its way through the state Supreme Court.
As for Locon's family, Mendez said her office has been unable to reach them about the recent co-naming campaign, but that they had been supportive of the idea when she brought it up at the anniversary of the explosion last year.
"We are still looking to talk to the family but based on the information they gave us last year, this is something they would be supportive of and would like to see," said Mendez.
In the meantime, Figueroa's family is fighting to commemorate both of them.
"I want [Moises] to be remembered — not just Nicholas, I'm talking about both of them," said Nixon, who recalled taking care to maintain both men's memorials on the Second Avenue lot in the wake of the tragedy.
"I cleared the area for both of them," he said. "I put flowers — I divided the flowers into two, for Nicholas and Moises. I talked to everybody about Moises."