Ghost Ship Trial: Testimony points to who was at fault

Bay Area

More testimony on Tuesday points to who was at fault for the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire.

At the Ghost Ship Trial Tuesday, Oakland Building and Planning Officials David Harlan testified after reviewing the department’s records for the warehouse.

They say nothing was found since the 1948 permit application when it was being built as a storage facility.

Harlan also testified it was incumbent upon the owner of the building or the tenant to get a permit if they are doing any construction, alterations or repair to the building.

During cross-examination, defense attorneys showed a lease Derick Almena signed showing a different address from one the city had for the Ghost Ship Warehouse.

Defense attorneys say that suggests the owners had subdivided the land without informing the city — They did not get permits and they should be held responsible for the fire.

Later in the morning, former Oakland Fire Investigator Maria Sabatini took the stand. She testified she investigated two fires at the Ghost Ship Warehouse.

The first was an outdoor sofa fire back in September of 2014, and the second was the 2016 fire that claimed the lives of those 36 party goers.

Sabatini said eight victims were located on the second floor of the warehouse and many of those who were found on the first floor had fallen when the second floor collapsed during the blaze.

Sabatini testified she never went inside the warehouse back in 2014, but the defense has claimed they have evidence that disputes that.

The defense claims Sabatini is covering that up because she should have acted on the fire code violations she saw back in 2014.

During the afternoon session, Sabatini testified based on three credible witness accounts she determined the fire started on the first floor in the rear of the warehouse along the back wall between a trailer and the kitchen.

The cause, however, remains undetermined.

The defense has suggested arsonists lit the blaze possibly with a molotov cocktail but Sabatini testified she has never seen such a device used to start a fire inside, nor did she find any evidence suggesting a molotov cocktail was used.

She did say that the warehouse was filled with debris and many accelerants including gasoline from vehicles and chemicals from the art supplies.

She said these got spread around during the firefight.

As a result, she said there was no reason to test for accelerants as one would do in a fire investigation because they knew they were already there.

On Tuesday, KRON4 reporters Dan Kerman and Michelle Kingston attended the trial. Here are more notes:

  • Sabatini said it was impossible to walk around, couldn’t even see the floor showed several photos of inside the warehouse after the fire. The fire showed the burned brick walls, second-floor collapse, a lot of wood, burned and unrecognizable RVs.
  • Sabatini said the investigation was days long — looking for fire causes and was unable to determine the cause of the fire. She said it can be difficult to determine because the fire burned for so long, extensively. Unable to draw a conclusion.
  • During cross-examination, a defense attorney we have not yet seen, Andrew Stein, began asking Sabatini questions. Stein is working on behalf of Max Harris.
  • Sabatini revealed during her testimony, at this time that she has sat down with the district attorney twice to prepare for this trial. She was unable to tell the attorney what she meant when she told prosecutors just minutes ago that the fire burned for “a long time.”
  • Stein’s last question to Sabatini before court ended was about homicide detectives — If she knew if they had been called if they were on the scene. She said she didn’t personally call a homicide detective.

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