A 24-year-old man has been arrested and charged with starting a fire that injured two people and caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damage at Brooklyn LGBTQ-friendly bar, Rash, the US Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Police say John Lhota walked into the bar around 9:00pm on Sunday, April 3, poured gasoline on the floor, threw a cigarette on it then lit it with a lighter, before running out.

Rash Bar, which only opened five months ago on the corner of Willoughby and Myrtle Aves., had quickly become popular with the LGBTQ community and was often packed with patrons late into the night.

“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 United States Attorney for the Eastern District Breon 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.”

According to the investigation, Lhota was captured on security video purchasing a red gas canister at a service station and filling it with gasoline. He then went to Rash, located on the ground floor of a multi-story building at 941 Willoughby Avenue, where he allegedly poured gasoline over the floor of the bar.

The video showed Lhota tossing a lit cigarette on the floor, but the gasoline did not ignite. He then used a cigarette lighter to ignite the gasoline, causing an explosion and a fire.

Two employees of Rash, a bartender and DJ, were injured during the blaze and required hospitalization, and the building sustained heavy damage due to the fire.

Security video captured Lhota fleeing the burning nightclub.

“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,” said Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh.

If convicted, Lhota faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment, and a maximum of 40 years’ imprisonment.

The bar has launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for staff who are now out of work which has hit $109,190 of its $200,000 goal. The bar is closed for now as the owners look to the rebuild.

A 24-year-old Brooklyn man


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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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