Derick Almena pleads guilty to “Ghost Ship” fire

Derick Almena, a tenant of the Ghost Ship depot in Oakland, where dozens died in a fire in 2016, pleaded guilty to 36 involuntary murders on Friday in a shocking and disappointing indictment against the victims ’families.

Alameda County prosecutors have told the families of the victims that Fifty-year-old Almena will be sentenced to nine years in prison as part of the deal, the East Bay Times wrote earlier, and will probably spend little or no extra time behind bars because he is already on duty and behaving well. due to. His verdict is expected in the coming weeks, according to the local news agency KTVU.

Thirty-six people died in a fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in 2016 during an electronic music dance party on the second floor. Alameda County prosecutors said the flame moved so fast that many people upstairs had little warning or a chance to escape the noisy wooden stairs leading to the first floor.

The Ghost Ship warehouse has been illegally converted into an artist’s residence and event space that is part of one of Oakland’s vibrant arts venues that have been distressed by gentrification. The building did not have a residence permit or public display.

Some partygoers recalled seeing the warehouse full of wooden objects and prosecutors said there were flammable materials, including extension cords, throughout the two-story building.

The tragedy infiltrated Oakland’s artistic community, and many said at the time that it illustrated the risk they were forced to survive in the Gulf area as rents rise and officials begin to “push back marginalized communities”.

In the years since the fire, the families of the 36 dead have offered hope for justice. Almena’s pleading agreement, which families only learned about last week, was an opportunity, angering some, the East Bay Times wrote.

David Gregory, the father of the victim, Michela Gregory, told the newspaper that he was disappointed with a possible accusation.

“I think we are supposed to just move on with our lives now, as if we had to accept that,” he added.

– It goes beyond disappointment. It’s beyond shock. I can’t lift my emotions enough. I am desperate and depressed. Colleen Dolan, whose daughter Chelsea Faith Dolan also died in the fire, told the newspaper.

Almena has spent time behind bars since 2017, but was released in May 2020 after placing a $ 150,000 bail bond for fears of COVID-19. He was under house arrest at his home in Upper Lake, California, where he lives with his wife and children, the Associated Press reported.

After more than two weeks of jury deliberation, the first trial ended with a jury verdict hanged for him in September 2019.

Max Harris, 29, who helped Almena collect rent on the Ghost Ship, was acquitted of 36 involuntary murders at the same trial.