By Adam Kramer
A Bronx man allegedly tried to set fire to a crowded Queens Village restaurant filled with 120 customers early Sunday morning by pouring gasoline in front of the door and in nearby garbage cans after being asked to leave the premises, authorities said.
Rofty Encarnacion, 23, was removed from La Nueva Plaza Restaurant at 212-40 Jamaica Ave. about 1 a.m. after he had an argument with a bartender, law enforcement officials said.
Encarnacion, who is accused of returning with a jug of gasoline which he poured on the front of the building, was believed to be just a match away from turning the restaurant into a Queens version of the 1990 Happy Land social club fire, the officials said.
“With 120 people at the location early Sunday morning, this could have easily been another Happy Land tragedy,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “We are glad it was not.”
On March 25, 1990 after a fight with his girlfriend, Julio Gonzalez set the Happy Land social club ablaze in the Bronx. Eighty-seven people inside the club died in the fire. Gonzalez is serving a life sentence for the crime.
Brown said Encarnacion, who lives at 1119 Washington Ave. in the Bronx, was charged with 120 counts of attempted murder, attempted arson, reckless endangerment and criminal trespassing.
Encarnacion was arraigned Sunday night and was being held on $110,000 bail, which he had not met as of presstime.
If convicted, he could face 25 years in jail for each count of attempted murder, which would add up to a prison term of 3,000 years.
Fernando Pichardo, the restaurant’s chef, said Monday it was not the first time Encarnacion had caused problems in the club. He said when Encarnacion arrived Saturday night, bouncers did not want to let him in, but he promised to not cause any problems.
But once inside Encarnacion allegedly grabbed a female bartender around the neck. Pichardo said Encarnacion had a relationship with the woman and was very angry that she had broken it off.
Pichardo said the woman came into the kitchen and told him she wanted to leave.
“We told her don’t worry because we protect every person working here,” he said.
About 15 minutes after Encarnacion was asked to leave the restaurant, Pichardo said he returned with the gasoline, which he allegedly poured in nearby garbage cans and in front of the establishment. He said Encarnacion was chased away before he could light a match.
Undercover cops arrested Encarnacion in a Laundromat across the street from the restaurant after a security guard called police.
“Everybody was scared when it was happening,” Pichardo said. “They all kept mentioning Happy Land. It was the first word out of people’s mouths.”
La Nueva Plaza, which has two exits in the rear and two in the front, has been owned for the past 18 months by Louis Paz. The restaurant has about 25 tables surrounding a square bar as well as several speakers and a dance floor.
Pichardo said security at the restaurant is tight and that Sunday morning’s incident was the first at La Nueva Plaza.
But neighbors disagreed.
One woman who did not want to give her name said there were frequently fights at the club. She said she has seen employees washing blood off the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.
She said neighbors are bothered by loud music blaring from the restaurant at night. Police have come several times to tell them to turn down the music, she said.
Another neighbor who lives next to the restaurant agreed that noise from the club was unbearable. She said she has also seen fights outside of La Nueva Plaza on numerous occasions.
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.