Ghost Ship Trial: Fire Marshal on witness stand

Bay Area

OAKLAND (KRON) — Testimony continued Wednesday in the Ghost Ship trial — this time focusing on who was responsible for the December 2016 fire that claimed 36 lives.

Questioning by the prosecution sought to implicate defendant and Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena.

Alameda County Deputy Fire Marshal Cesar Avila, who was assistant fire marshal in Oakland at the time of the Ghost Ship Fire, testified when a building zoned as storage, like the Ghost Ship warehouse, changes its use to residential or a public gathering space with more than 49 people, upgrades are required to meet the fire code.

These upgrades include adding fire sprinklers, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, marked exit paths, exits on all floors and lighting with a battery backup.

Avila testified the person making the changes, whether the building’s owner or the tenant, is the one responsible for making the necessary upgrades. While that testimony is a clear indictment of defendant Almena, his attorney tried to redirect the blame.

“My client didn’t have the money,” his attorney said. “He expected the landlord to do it.”

But Almena’s attorney Tony Serra’s key focus was on blaming the Oakland Fire Department for inspecting the property several times and never once issuing a citation

“It’s incumbent on the fire department to issue a citation, ‘hey man you are not in compliance,’ they never did anything,” Serra said. “The fire department failed in its duties and responsibilities.”

Under cross examination, Avila admitted when he searched the Oakland Fire Department for documentation of inspections, he could find nothing.

Defendants Almena and Max Harris each are charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter resulting from the deadly fire.

Authorities say the 48-year-old Almena rented the warehouse and illegally converted it into an entertainment venue and residences before the fire.

Harris reportedly helped him collect rent and schedule concerts.

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