Ghost Ship Trial: Fire survivor thought he would be burned alive

Bay Area

OAKLAND (KRON) — He thought he was going to be burned alive on those stairs — that is what prosecution witness Samuel Maxwell testified at the Ghost Ship trial in Oakland Wednesday.

Maxwell told the court that he suffered brain damage, burns on his body and loss the use of his legs as a result of the deadly fire back on December 2, 2016.

On direct examination when questioned about the interior stairs, he testified they were poorly constructed and that there was a dangerous section more like a boat ramp than stairs.

It was just very hard to hear someone who was in the fire describe what it was like, said Ben Fritz, the brother of fire victim Ferral Pines.

Fritz’s sister was one of the 36 concert goers who died in the fire.

To be there and describe how unsafe those stairs were, how scary it was when the flames started and to know that my sister was there for that and that’s how she died, he said.

One of the defendant’s attorneys disagrees and says the stairs inside the warehouse were safe.

That staircase was sturdy, according to at least a dozen witnesses so far has testified, the staircase was built well. I think people will have to take Mr. Maxwell’s testimony with a grain of salt, said Curtis Briggs, attorney for defendant Max Harris.

Wednesday’s court proceedings also featured returning to the stand, former Oakland Fire Inspector maria sabatini. She described the Ghost Ship a fire death scene.

On cross examination she was grilled about the decision to not call in the ATF’s national response team, considering it was the largest fire investigation of her career.

If this is an arson fire which I truly believe it is, all they had to do is one thing and we would know the truth, call the the national response team from ATF, the most highly trained [response team,] said defense attorney David Stein.

Fritz doesn’t place the blame on a single person or department.

I feel there’s a lot of entity’s that are responsible for this tragedy, the defendants here, the two of them certainly don’t encompass who is responsible, Fritz said.

On Wednesday, KRON4’s Michelle Kingston attended the trial. Here are her notes:

First witness on 5/22: Samuel Maxwell

  • Prosecutor described him as one of the three people still around who survived the Ghost Ship fire
  • He testified he has brain damage, burns on his body and lose the use of his legs
  • He told the court he thought he was going to be burned alive on the stairs in the Ghost Ship. He said there were at least 80 people on the stairs in front of him as he was trying to leave the second floor. He waited for the bottleneck to clear, making sure no one was trampled and then made his escape.
  • During cross-examination, he said he’d been to two previous music events at the warehouse and never had a problem using the stairs, but did say they were poorly constructed and that there was a dangerous section more like a boat ramp than stairs.

Ben Fritz was in the gallery today. He is the brother of Farrel Pines, one of the 36 victims who died the night of the electronic music party. He spoke to reporters about how hard it was to hear Maxwell describe what it was like to be in the building the night of the fire.

Maria Sabatini returns

  • Former Oakland fire investigator returned to the stand for the second day, for cross-examination, and will be back on Thursday, as well.
  • She was grilled by Defense Attorney Andy Stein about the decision to not call in the ATF’s National Response team, considering it was the largest fire investigation of her career.
  • Stein was called in to help with cross-examination by Curtis Briggs, Harris’ other attorney. Briggs and Stein are good friends, according to Stein.
  • Stein asked Sabatini a series of yes or no questions that prosecutors seemed to have a lot of issue with, objecting to many of them and asking for a side bar in the middle of the afternoon. Some of his questions were about staffing, about who she was working with, when she arrived, when she left, how many buckets of debris were removed, if she checked gas tanks inside the warehouse, if she checked if victims clothes had accelerant on them.
  • The question of arson was also brought up again, as this is how defense is arguing the fire was started. Sabatini was asked if she had any suspicion of arson and while she said they had no reports or any indication of unusual people or sounds of gas, it doesn’t mean they didn’t consider arson. She said they’re unable to eliminate arson. The cause of the fire is still undetermined.

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