A man distraught over the end of a relationship seals his kitchen door with packing tape, turns on the oven gas and prepares to die from asphyxiation. Instead, an explosion rips through brick and plaster, more than 100 of his neighbors are evacuated, but the man, surprisingly, survives.
It was three years ago that Larry Feingold, an administrative law judge, blew up his apartment and seriously damaged three floors of his Stuyvesant Town building. Eight other people, including three firefighters, were slightly injured as a result of his suicide attempt.
Although many of the details are different, the Feingold case may offer a suggestion of what lies ahead for Dr. Nicholas Bartha, should he be charged with intentionally causing the blast that leveled his Upper East Side town house on Monday morning.
Dr. Bartha, who was dealing with the aftermath of a contentious divorce, was in a medically induced coma yesterday with severe burns over much of his body. Investigators believe he may have tampered with a gas line in an effort to destroy the East 62nd Street building and deprive his former wife of the proceeds from its sale. Fifteen people, 10 of them firefighters, were injured.
Mr. Feingold, three years later, has recovered from his injuries, his lawyers said. He is facing litigation from two insurance companies, one of which is seeking to recoup the $1.7 million it paid to the owner of his apartment complex, according to court records.
In 2004, he was convicted of first-degree reckless endangerment and sentenced to five years of probation. Because he was convicted of a felony, he automatically lost his license to practice law. At the time of his trial, Mr. Feingold, now 55, said he was despondent after breaking up with his longtime lover, Roy Abbott, and was simply trying to end his life.
Shortly after Mr. Abbott packed up and left, Mr. Feingold blew out the pilot light on his stove, swallowed a handful of tranquilizers and lay down in front of the open door to the oven. Five hours later, the refrigerator compressor set off an explosion that turned adjacent apartments to rubble, blasted out scores of windows and sent Mr. Feingold’s air conditioner hurtling into the courtyard 11 stories below. During the trial, Mr. Feingold told the court he had not known cooking gas was explosive.
Mr. Feingold, who now lives with relatives on Long Island, did not return a call seeking comment, but his lawyers were willing to speak of how the case has affected their client.
“His life has absolutely been destroyed,” said Ronald Kliegerman, who represented him at his trial. “It was bad enough that he tried to commit suicide, but to have this case heaped on him, to lose your job and be disbarred, that’s unbearable.”
Mr. Feingold’s situation improved slightly last week when the state’s highest court reduced his conviction, transforming his felony into a misdemeanor. As a result, Mr. Feingold, who worked for the city’s Environmental Control Board, can ask that his law license be reinstated, and he stands to have his sentence reduced.
“It’s a significant victory,” said Barry Fallick, the lawyer who handled the appeal. “It backs our contention that he never intended to hurt anyone except himself.”
It remains to be seen whether the Court of Appeals decision will affect Dr. Bartha’s future. The Manhattan district attorney declined to comment, but Mr. Feingold’s lawyers were quick to point out the difference between the two cases: Mr. Feingold, they said, was guilty of a poorly planned suicide, while law enforcement officials say they believe Dr. Bartha intended to destroy the building and end his life.
Three years later, it is difficult to spot any traces of the blast that destroyed or damaged 24 apartments at 21 Stuyvesant Oval. The halls are freshly painted and about half the tenants who were displaced for a year or more have returned.
Some tenants, like Connie Buro, said she had little sympathy for Mr. Feingold, who should have sought a less destructive way of coping with his emotional distress. “It was traumatizing to be thrown out of your home for almost two years,” said Ms. Buro, an educator who lives a few doors down from Mr. Feingold’s former apartment. “Couldn’t these crazy people find themselves a good therapist instead of blowing things up?”