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Master Tenant Pleads Guilty in Ghost Ship Fire That Killed 36

2021-01-22 23:37:08
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The main tenant of a warehouse that had been converted into a dilapidated artist collective in Oakland, California, pleaded guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter on Friday, four years after a fire ripped through the building, killing 36 people, court records show.

The lead tenant, Derick Almena, filed pleas in Alameda County Superior Court, avoiding a second trial after his first trial ended without a verdict in 2019.

Mr Almena was one of two people who had been criminally charged in connection with the fire – the other was found not guilty in 2019 – and his pleas came after several twists and turns in the case infuriated the families of the victims.

The Alameda County District Attorney & # 39; s Office said Friday it was unable to comment due to a gag warrant issued by Judge Trina Thompson. Mr. Almena's attorney, Tony Serra, also declined to comment, citing the gag order, his office said.

The warehouse, which housed an artist collective known as the Ghost Ship, burned during a nightly party on December 2, 2016.

Many of the residents lived there in violation of zoning laws, and the fire underscored the failure of Oakland leaders to enforce building and fire codes. The inferno also became an emblem of the rising cost of living in the Bay Area, prompting many artists and young people to seek shelter in the dilapidated building.

Prosecutors said Mr. Almena, who was the leaseholder, moved into the warehouse with his family violation of the lease, the Oakland Municipal Code, and the California State Fire Code.

He then began to sublet space to people in the warehouse, encouraging residents to create their own living spaces from unconventional materials he had collected, including dry wood, fence planks, shingles, window frames, wooden sculptures, tapestries, pianos. , organs and carpets. prosecutors said.

The combustible material became kindling for the fire, which quickly consumed the building. Many of the victims attended a party on the second floor and were unable to escape up the stairs.

Credit…Alameda County Sheriff & # 39; s Office, via Associated Press

Mr. Almena and Max Harris, described by prosecutors as Mr. Almena's right-hand man in managing the warehouse, were arrested in 2017 and charged with 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter each.

"She and all the other friends in this artistic community, be it artists or fans, they all showed up to support one of their own, and they all died," said Ms. Dolan. "It's impossible to put into words the deep, deep sorrow we feel."

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