Defendant in Deadly Ghost Ship Fire Dodges Second Trial With Guilty Plea

Derick Almena, a man who converted an Oakland warehouse into an artist collective where a 2016 fire killed 36, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter Friday.

The Ghost Ship Warehouse on Dec. 3, 2016, after a fast-moving fire swept through the building in Oakland, Calif., killing 36 partygoers. (KGO-TV via AP, File)

(CN) — Derick Almena, the master tenant of the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland where 36 partygoers perished during a 2016 fire, pleaded guilty Friday to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

During a hearing at the Alameda County Superior Court, Almena gave a terse reply of “guilty” to each of the 36 counts read off by Judge Trina Thompson, who referred the case to the probation department.

Almena will remain on ankle monitoring in advance of his March 8 sentencing date. Thompson said Friday Almena could face up to 12 years in prison, with a reduction of approximately three years for time served and good behavior.

The case stems from a fire at the Ghost Ship, an Oakland warehouse that had been illegally converted into a live-work space for about 25 artists.

A fire ripped through the warehouse on Dec. 2, 2016, while 100 attended an electronic music concert on the illegally constructed upper floor, leaving 36 people dead. Police reports indicate debris and flammable material had littered the ground before the fire. There were only two exits and no smoke detectors, fire alarms or sprinklers on the property, according to police.

Prosecutors say that Almena, who was the master tenant on the lease, was criminally negligent in the incident because he was responsible for converting the warehouse into a live-work space without proper permitting.

Thompson declared a mistrial in September 2019 after a jury hung 10-2 in favor of a guilty charge. The same jury acquitted Almena’s co-defendant Max Harris.

Almena was jailed in 2017 while awaiting trial but was released this May due to coronavirus concerns.

He is widely expected not to serve his full sentence and may continue to be on ankle monitoring for another one and a half years, with three years of probation.

The city of Oakland agreed in July 2020 to pay approximately $36 million to the survivors of the fire victims. Utility company Pacific Gas & Electric also settled with families for an undisclosed amount in 2020.

The Ghost Ship Fire was the deadliest mass casualty event in Oakland since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.

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