Dalila Ali Rajah
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Suspect Charged With Arson Over Fire at New York LGBTQ+ Club

Rash club after the fire

A suspect has been charged in connection to the April 3 arson of Rash, an LGBTQ+ bar in New York City.

John Lhota, 24, was arrested on April 13, according to a news release by the Department of Justice.

Lhota was captured on security video at a nearby gas station filling a canister with gasoline. He then is alleged to have gone to the club and poured the gas on the floor. Another video shows Lhota throwing a cigarette on the floor, but it didn’t light. He then uses the cigarette lighter to ignite the fire, authorities say, causing an explosion. Security video also captured Lhota running from the club.

“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,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said. “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.”

Lhota made his initial court appearance in Brooklyn on Thursday. He pleaded not guilty and the judge ordered that he be detained, according to The New York Times.

Prosecutors said Lhota faces up to 40 years in prison.

The incident happened around 9:30 p.m. at Rash on Myrtle Avenue. Both police and fire departments confirmed that two people were injured in the fire.  

“Last night before the party started, someone came into our bar, poured gasoline on the floor causing an explosion that set the bar in flames. He was wearing a dark hoodie and a backpack and immediately ran from the scene. Everyone inside made it out, but two people were brought to the hospital and are in stable condition,” the club wrote on Instagram following the fire.

The police arrested Lhota after a woman called 911 and said he had assaulted her, the Times reports. From that incident, he faces charges of strangulation and assault and harassment.

The Advocate has reached out to Rash for comment.

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