By Stephen Stirling
A Whitestone man pleaded guilty to arson charges in Queens Criminal Court last Thursday for setting a fire that destroyed the Lollipop Diner, a community landmark, and damaged several other businesses last year, the Queens District Attorney said.
Queens DA Richard Brown said Michael Trantel, 42, of 15âˆ’29 159th St., set a bag of Halloween candy on fire after breaking into the Lollipop Diner in the Whitestone Shopping Center Nov. 2 to steal a pack of cigarettes. The bag quickly ignited a blaze that spread to other businesses through a wooden awning that lines the shopping center, causing extensive damage.
“The defendant has pleaded guilty to having set a devastating fire that destroyed a popular business and caused extensive damage to neighboring stores,” Brown said. The fire could easily have caused serious injuries or death to firefighters charged with fighting the blaze or others who may have been inside or around the building.”
Trantel pleaded guilty to arson and faces up to 14 years in prison at sentencing, currently scheduled for April 1.
Lollipop Diner — completely destroyed by the blaze — has remained closed since the fire. Each of the other businesses has been able to reopen since the fire, but extensive renovations are ongoing to repair damage left by the blaze on the entire western strip of the shopping center.
Lollipop Diner, on a service road at 153âˆ’31 Cross Island Pkwy. in the Whitestone Shopping Center, had been a staple in the community for decades and shoppers said Tuesday the shopping center just is not the same without it.
“I still turn towards it whenever I’m here,” said Saul Pahlson. “I used to go to lunch there all the time. It was a habit. I go to the bank, I maybe get some groceries and I go grab some lunch at Lollipop. They better come back soon. No one else around here can hack it.”
Lollipop owners Michael and Kostas Psillis, who have said they were planning to reopen their business, could not be reached for comment. An answering machine message simply states the diner is undergoing renovations, and will be open again soon.
“For a crime so often noted as victimless, this is a perfect example of how wrong that is. Just ask the affected shop owners,” said Delano Reid, acting special agent in charge of the New York Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, following Trantel’s arrest.
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by eâˆ’mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 138.