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Plea Deal Tossed in 2016 CA Fire

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

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A judge has tossed out the plea deal with two men who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in July, almost two years after 36 people were killed in a warehouse fire in a building known as the Ghost Ship in Oakland, California.

According to ABC News, the warehouse was located in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood and was converted to a place many artists called home. Derick Almena started the collective; Max Harris was the project’s artistic director. Both pleaded guilty and proposed a plea deal wherein Almena would serve nine years in prison, with Harris serving six.

What Happened

After the fire (Dec. 2, 2016), authorities investigated possible building code violations as the building was reportedly a maze of artist studios and living spaces with a number of do-it-yourself, unpermitted construction and electrical updates, with insufficient fire-safety equipment.

Almena rented out the space from owner Chor Nar Siu Ng and had completed a series of unregulated construction projects in order to sublet different spaces—including campers parked in the warehouse’s first floor—to artists and other tenants.

He then encouraged the residents to decorate with unconventional items, filling the space “floor to ceiling” with items like tapestries, furniture and pianos.

The warehouse was reportedly not zoned for residential use and public records show that the warehouse had been subject to at least 10 code enforcement complaints and that city officials had visited the site as recent as that November but never actually went inside the building. The fire was determined to be caused by electrical problems.

Almena, 47, was booked in June 2017 in the Santa Rita Jail with bail set at $1.8 million. Harris was booked around the same time with bail also set at $1.8 million.

Plea Deal Rejection

On Friday (Aug.11), Alameda County Judge James Cramer tossed out Almena and Harris’ plea deal. Relatives of those killed in the fire were surprised by the decision, but grateful, according to reports. Cramer was apparently receptive to accepting Harris’ plea, but not Almena’s. Since the two pleas were made together, the judge had to throw both out.

"You see the victims' families are very adamant and I empathize with their perspective, even though I think it's a little bit irrational but they want 36 years," said Almena's defense attorney, Tony Serra. (This would mean a year in jail for each of the 36 people killed.)

Both men could bargain for another plea deal with prosecutors moving forward, or one could reach a deal and the other could go to trial. Harris and Almena are slated to be in court again Aug. 17.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Fire; Health and safety; Safety

Comment from Tammy Schiller, (8/14/2018, 9:47 AM)

Any inspectors held responsible for not doing their jobs? "The warehouse was reportedly not zoned for residential use and public records show that the warehouse had been subject to at least 10 code enforcement complaints and that city officials had visited the site as recent as that November but never actually went inside the building. The fire was determined to be caused by electrical problems."


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