2 arrested in connection with deadly Ghost Ship fire

Concert promoter Derrick Ion Almena and warehouse resident Max Harris were arrested; they will each be charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter

By By James Queally And Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times

OAKLAND, Calif. — Two people have been arrested in connection with the deadly Ghost Ship fire that claimed 36 lives inside an Oakland warehouse last year, authorities said.

Derick Ion Almena, 47, the concert promoter who converted the warehouse into an artists residence and underground concert venue, was arrested Monday morning, according to Alameda County Asst. Dist. Atty. Teresa Drenick. Charges have yet to be formally filed, she said.

In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, flowers, pictures, signs and candles, are placed at the scene of a warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif.
In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, flowers, pictures, signs and candles, are placed at the scene of a warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

The second arrestee was identified as Max Harris, Drenick said. He had been living at the warehouse since 2014 and was the location’s creative director. Harris has previously said he reported electrical problems to the building’s owners and discussed power outages, necessary upgrades and electrical bills with them. He was the doorman on the night of the deadly event

The fire at the warehouse known as the Ghost Ship broke out during a Dec. 2 concert, trapping scores of attendees inside. All of the victims died of smoke inhalation, according to coroner’s reports. They ranged in age from 17 to 61.

The deadly inferno has opened the city up to rampant criticism, as public records revealed police and fire officials had been called to the building several times amid mounting evidence it had been converted into an illegal residence.

Oakland officials have repeatedly denied that fire and building officials were aware of the danger within the heavily cluttered 10,000-square-foot warehouse. The fire chief has insisted that the department never inspected the location or responded to a dispatch call there in more than a decade, and that city officials believed it was used as a warehouse, not as a concert and living space.

A city building inspector who visited the address just prior to the fire was unable to gain access to the warehouse, officials say.

But public records released by the city in February show the building had been subject to at least 10 code enforcement complaints. City officials also visited the warehouse numerous times in the years before the deadly blaze.

The warehouse was one of several properties owned by Chor N. Ng. Her daughter, Eva Ng, 36, has said the building was leased as a studio space for the art collective and was not used as residences.

Almena, the last lessee on the building, had advertised the building on Craigslist as a “hybrid museum, sunken pirate ship, shingled funhouse, and guerrilla gallery.” He lived in the Ghost Ship with his girlfriend, Micah Allison, and their three children. They were not present the night it burned.

In a disjointed interview on NBC’s “Today” show conducted just days after the fire, Almena offered an apology, but bristled when asked if he should be held accountable for the deadly blaze.

“I’m only here to say one thing: I’m incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together,” he said. “People didn’t walk through those doors because it was a horrible place. People didn’t seek us out to perform and express themselves because it was a horrible place.”

Calls to Almena’s attorneys seeking comment Monday morning were not immediately returned. He is being represented by attorneys J. Tony Serra, Jeffrey Krasnoff and Kyndra Miller. The litigators have previously said the officials investigating the case have a “conflict of interest” because they were likely to face civil suits in connection with the fire.

The families of the victims filed a civil suit naming Ng, Almena and PSE&G as defendants earlier this year.

Copyright 2017 Los Angeles Times

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