Bay City News

Defense Tries to Prove Fire Officials Ignored Ghost Ship Safety Issues

Defense attorneys for two Ghost Ship warehouse leaders presented two witnesses on Thursday aimed at proving their contention that Oakland fire officials knew about the conditions at the building where a fire killed 36 people in 2016 but didn't do anything about them.

Warehouse master tenant Derick Almena, 49, and creative director Max Harris, 29, are each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deadly blaze at a music party at the warehouse in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue on the night of Dec. 2, 2016.

Alameda County prosecutors allege that Almena and Harris are criminally responsible for the fire because the partygoers didn't have the time or opportunity to escape the blaze since the warehouse didn't have important safeguards, such as fire sprinklers, smoke alarms and lighted exit signs.

They also allege that Almena and Harris violated the terms of the warehouse's lease by turning it into a living space for up to 25 people and hosting underground music parties there.

But defense attorneys allege that government officials, such as police officers, firefighters and child service workers, are at least partly responsible because they all toured the warehouse before the fire and failed to report it for dangerous conditions.

Former Ghost Ship resident Olivia Prinn testified Thursday that several Oakland firefighters entered the warehouse for a few minutes on Sept.

26, 2014, while they were investigating an arson fire on a couch on the sidewalk outside the building and were given a tour by Almena.

Almena's lawyer Tony Serra called Prinn to the witness stand to try to contradict the testimony of former Oakland Acting Assistant Fire Marshal Maria Sabitini, who said on May 21 that she didn't go inside the warehouse when she investigated that fire because the damage to the building was "relatively superficial" and there wasn't any damage to its interior.

Sabatini, who said she was busy because she was investigating five small arson fires in Oakland on that day in 2014, said she didn't think it was necessary for her to go inside the warehouse.

Prinn agreed with Serra when he asked her if it would be untrue if Oakland firefighters testified that they didn't go into the building that day. However, Serra didn't mention Sabatini's name.

Prinn said she couldn't recall if the firefighters who went inside the building were male or female.

Oakland fire Lt. Salvador Garcia III said he went with his wife to a Christmas party that was held at the warehouse in 2014 for teachers, including his wife, who worked at a school in that area in the city's Fruitvale district.

Garcia said the party for about 20 people was held on the building's second floor and "there was nothing there that made me feel unsafe."

However, Garcia said he went there in civilian clothes and was there strictly for the party and didn't conduct any safety inspections.

Garcia also said the building's main stairway was "unconventional" because it was "like a ramp" and had strips of wood for traction.

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