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East Village deadly gas blast remembered on anniversary

Nixon Figueroa, father of Nicholas Figueroa, on March

Nixon Figueroa, father of Nicholas Figueroa, on March 26, 2016, at the site of his son's death in Manhattan's East Village. The day marked the one year anniversary of the 2015 building explosion, allegedly caused by an illegal gas hookup, that killed Nicholas Figueroa, 23, and another man. Nixon Figueroa holds pieces of the building's fire escape. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Too distraught to speak at an anniversary memorial for his son, handyman Nixon Figueroa clutched a metal wreckage fragment from the gas explosion that killed Nicholas Figueroa — a father wishing he could once again tell his boy, “I love you.”

It was a year ago Saturday that, authorities say, an illegal natural gas hookup sparked the blast that killed Nicholas, 23, who was on a date in a Japanese restaurant, and a worker in the eatery, Moises Locon, 26. The explosion also injured 13 others, left dozens more homeless and resulted in criminal charges against five people.

“I wish he was here right now. I would tell him how much I love him every day, like I used to,” said Nixon Figueroa, 53, who was on the verge of tears, after the memorial.

“He was a happy kid — loving, caring, adventurous . . . He was a Boy Scout, an Eagle Scout,” said the father, who lives in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “Thank God” that he had a chance on the day of the explosion to speak to his son and say how much he loved him, Figueroa remembered.

The FDNY had given the Figueroa a piece of fire escape from the wreckage site, now reshaped into a cross and engraved with his son’s initials.

Photographs of two young men killed in the explosion surround the fenced-off empty lot where three buildings once stood.

Victims’ families, local politicians, the former tenants and rescuers who answered last year’s doomsday calls stood at the blast site, at East Seventh Street and Second Avenue, for a Day of Remembrance, as organizers called the memorial.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) said he is looking at legislative ways to prevent the arrested landlord from reaping a windfall profit on a future sale of the property, and he wants the victims’ families to get a portion of any sale.

The lawmakers at the memorial pushed for the City Council to pass a package of legislation, introduced last month, to regulate gas installations, including bills to expand inspections and notifications of tenants.

In February, following 11 months of investigation, five people, including building owner Maria Hrynenko and her son, Michael Hrynenko, the property manager, were arrested on charges including homicide.

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