Ghost Ship warehouse fire suspects go to trial
The two men charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter following the gruesome “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire that claimed the lives of 36 individuals in 2016 are now on trial. The suspects, master tenant Derick Almena, and creative director, Max Harris, could face up to 36 years in prison each if convicted. The trial is the first legal movement in the case since Judge James Cramer’s rejection of Almena and Harris’ plea deals in August 2018.
The Ghost Ship blaze is California’s deadliest building fire since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. While the cause of the fire was undetermined at the time of the incident, and still remains unknown, police officials later discovered a myriad of electrical problems in the space that likely contributed to the incident. The 9,880 square-foot space was outfitted with an amateur and outdated electrical system known for its consistent power failure. Power strips provided much of the warehouse’s electricity, increasing strain on an already inadequate electrical system.
To make matters worse, Ghost Ship was already in a deteriorated physical state, preventing attendees’ escape. Those trapped on the second floor of the warehouse were unable to venture to the ground floor of the structure when the fire started, the stairs unsafe due to their makeup—a haphazard pairing of planks and wooden pallets.
Almena and Harris’ attorneys will rely on the lack of a conclusive cause for the fire as an argument key to their defense of their clients. Almena’s attorney imparted that he will allege that an arsonist could easily have been responsible for the blaze, while Harris’ attorney intends to re-allocate culpability to the warehouse’s landlord, Chor Ng, as well as the city of Oakland and its fire department. The civil cases that the families of the victims have opened against Oakland city officials and Ng will not proceed until October 2019.
Photo credit: Ritu Saheb