OAKLAND (KRON) — Two people were arrested for involuntary manslaughter relating to the Ghost Ship warehouse fire that killed 36 people last year.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced Monday morning that Derick Almena, the operator of the warehouse, and Max Harris have each been charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter. They could face up to 39 years in state prison if they’re convicted.
Almena was arrested in Lake County and Harris was arrested in Los Angeles County. Both arrests happened early Monday morning. Both men were expected to be brought back to Alameda County to face charges.
Almena was booked into Santa Rita Jail at 7 p.m. His bail is set at $1.08 million.
O’Malley alleged that Almena and Harris “created nearly impossible labyrinth” that led to the deaths of dozens of people.
“Almena and Harris knowingly created a fire trap,” O’Malley said. “And they are now facing the consequences of their actions.”
The cause of the fire still remains undetermined. However, O’Malley said this will not influence the charges.
O’Malley said the actions of Almena and Harris “were reckless, creating a high risk of death” and “a reasonable person would have known that acting that way would create such a risk.”
Almena, also known as Derick Ion, lived in and operated the warehouse. He also held for-profit concerts at the warehouse, which was not licensed for entertainment.
Harris lived at the Ghost Ship and is accused of helping plan the December concert where the fire broke out.
Neighbors and occupants of the building said he had illegally carved it into rented living and studio space for artists.
A former tenant of the Ghost Ship had called it a “death trap.” Shelley Mack said she had complained to Almena about the conditions and believes this could all have been avoided if they would have listened to her.
Almena, 46, has lived in California since at least 1990, mostly in Los Angeles, where public records show he was evicted from a North Hollywood apartment in Los Angeles in 1993.
A fire erupted int the warehouse in December of 2016 during an electronic music party. Almena was at a nearby hotel as he had rented out the warehouse for the night.
Almena’s attorney Tony Serra couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.
In January, Serra issued a report that he said cast doubt on Almena’s culpability for the fire and suggested that the fire originated in the warehouse next to the Ghost Ship, not the Ghost Ship itself.
Several weeks after the fire, Serra said Almena didn’t engage in any criminal misconduct and alleged that governmental agencies were responsible for the blaze for not cracking down on code violations at the warehouse.
Mayor Libby Schaaf has issued the following statement:
“I applaud the charges filed today by District Attorney Nancy O’ Malley because they send a clear message: you won’t get away with making a profit by cramming people into dangerous spaces or failing to maintain safe living conditions.
“The reckless and deceptive actions of Derick Almena and Max Harris claimed 36 innocent lives. For years, they worked hard to escape legal scrutiny and deceive City officials. Because of their callous disregard for human life, they deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“I am grateful to District Attorney O’Malley for her tireless pursuit of justice and for charging Almena and Harris with involuntary manslaughter. We will never forget the victims who died in the tragic Ghost Ship fire. We can’t bring loved ones back, but we can honor them by seeking justice.”
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