Photo credit: WABC-TV
Photo credit: WABC-TV
Photo credit: WABC-TV
Criminal charged may be looming for and Upper East Side doctor. He's accused of blowing up his own townhouse in a bizarre suicide attempt on Madison Avenue and 62nd Street.
They say Dr. Nicholas Bartha started a natural gas leak at the townhouse where he lived and worked on 62nd Street near Madison on the Upper East Side.
The stench of smoke and burned material still looms this morning. And traffic in the area is still a mess with East 62nd closed between Madison and Fifth Avenue as authorities deal with the aftermath of a four story townhouse reduced to rubble.
There is just about nothing left of 34 East 62nd Street in Manhattan, after the Monday morning blast that hurt 15 people, destroyed the building and set off a three alarm fire. One of the most amazing things about the blast is that no one was killed.
Just one man, Dr. Nicholas Bartha, was inside the building when it exploded. Now, he is fighting for his life and authorities say they believe he caused it all, caused the blast while trying to kill himself.
Dr. Bartha's 25 year marriage had ended in a bitter divorce. Sources say it was a violent turn in a bitter divorce proceeding that began in 2002.
He faced a sheriff's auction of the house where he lived and practiced, the only way to pay more than four million dollars owed to his ex-wife because of a judgment in the divorce proceedings.
Bartha sent his ex-wife an e-mail just before the explosion. Authorities say it read, in part:
"You will be transformed from gold digger to ash and rubbish digger.You always wanted me to sell the house. I always told you, I will leave the house only if I am dead. "
The doctor sent a copy to his lawyer who read it just before the building blew up.
Ira Garr, Attorney: "It struck me as almost an obituary, it looked like an obituary from the "New York Times." And I pushed to the end to see if there was a conclusion and there was a note to his ex-wife saying I no longer think I wish to live.
A family spokesman talked to members of the media late Monday night.
Robert Kloos: "The emotional turmoil wrought by the parties in the divorce proceedings brought about an unspeakable tragedy and it's too difficult to bear. Ms. Bartha cannot at this time withstand the additional burden of the media microscope from this personal tragedy."
For more information on details of the divorce battle, check out Eyewitness News' Jim Hoffer's report.
Heavy equipment was moved in on the scene Monday afternoon, beginning to sift through the rubble. And investigators were inside trying to determine the location of the blast. Sources say they believe it originated in the basement of that building.
Larry King, TV Show Host: "I heard the loudest sound I ever heard in my life, an incredible boom, obviously an explosion. I thought it was a bomb. The first thing you think of is 9/11, naturally."
CNN's Larry King described the blast. Residents and even restaurant workers all thought the worst.
"We saw the whole building. The television was rattling. The plants fell off. Glasses were flying off," a neighbor said.
All four stories of 34 East 62nd Street, a duplex on the top and doctors' offices on the bottom, came crashing down in a matter of seconds. The blast sent debris and glass flying, injuring a number of pedestrians.
Hundreds of firefighters responded after the blast.
"We had fire. We had gas. We had debris that was hanging. We have a large chimney above that could have collapsed," a firefighter said.
Several firefighters suffered injuries trying to remove the mountainous debris. In the end, the doctor was the only person found underneath the debris in the basement. He was still able to communicate with his rescuers.
"He kept saying, 'I need go to a hospital. Get me out of here.' And I'll tell you, the firefighters put their lives on the line here to rescue this doctor," another firefighter said.
The doctor was removed to the hospital in critical condition. Fourteen other people were hurt, ten of them firefighters. The good news: None of those other injuries is thought to be serious, and with all the hustle and bustle on this block that is truly amazing.
Witnesses told Eyewitness News this was just a full sensory experience that was really scary because they did not only see it and hear it, they smelled it and more frightningly, they felt it.
"We were just standing here, and the next thing you know we were blown back like that," a doorman said.
The force of the explosion was strong enough to knock the doorman next door around inside of the lobby.
"The doors were blown wide open. We actually saw a lot of smoke right away. Actually, a pedestrian, a young woman was brought to the front of our building that was covered in blood," the doorman said.
Above them, they had an eerie view. The building, which was there one second was suddenly gone the next.
"There was a deafening boom and I started screaming at my wife and two kids across the street to run, run, run, because I didn't know if there was going to be another explosion," a witness said.
Residents of a nearby apartment building didn't get back in until late this afternoon, and even then not everyone could go home. Some of them have heavy smoke and water damage to deal with. And an office complex on the other side of the scene won't be usable until the fire escape for the building is freed of debris from the blast.