Ghost Ship Trial Concludes

Photos by Dennis Evanosky    The Ghost Ship sails on in this mural on East 12th Street in Oakland. The doves represent the 36 people who lost their lives in the Dec. 2, 2016, fire.

The two men charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the 2016 Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire received different outcomes at their criminal trial Thursday, Sept. 5.

No verdict was reached on charges against Derick Almena, the master tenant of the warehouse. The 12 jurors could not reach a unanimous decision. Ten jurors found him guilty, while two found him not guilty, according to reports. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson declared a mistrial in Almena’s trial. A hearing on a possible retrial for Almena is scheduled for Oct. 4, according to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. Almena is scheduled to attend the hearing.

The two jurors who voted “not guilty” believed responsibility should fall on the warehouse’s landlord, Chor Ng, not Almena, according to reports. 

The second defendant, Max Harris, was acquitted of all charges. Harris, the creative director of the warehouse space, was released from Santa Rita Jail in Dublin after his acquittal. Almena will remain in custody at the jail until his retrial hearing or until he posts bail, set at $750,000.

The jury deliberations faced several twists en route to last Thursday’s decision. The trial began on April 30. The jury began deliberating on Aug. 1. On the 10th day of deliberations, Thompson dismissed three jurors from the case for misconduct. Almena’s defense attorney Tony Serra said one of the jurors consulted with a firefighter for advice who was not a witness in the case, then shared the information with the two other jurors, according to reports. The three dismissed jurors were replaced by alternates.

Thirty-six people died in at the Oakland warehouse fire Friday, Dec. 2, 2016 including Alameda native and Alameda High School (AHS) graduate, Johnny Igaz (“Ghost Ship Blaze Claims AHS Grad” Dec. 6, 2016). He graduated from AHS in 1999. Igaz was a DJ who used the name “Nackt.” He was at the warehouse playing his music between sets of live music. Thirty-five of the deceased were attending the music performance and one was a tenant living in the warehouse.

In 2014, Ng leased the warehouse on 31st Avenue in Oakland to Almena. Almena planned to create an artists’ colony within the space. He also rented out space for people to live. The tenants created a maze of living spaces. The building’s occupants added an entertainment venue on the second floor. With no permits to fuss with and no inspectors to please, the tenants turned the warehouse into a maze with no way to escape in an emergency. 

Several of the victim’s family members have filed civil lawsuits against the City of Oakland for failure to inspect the warehouse.

 

Dennis Evanosky    The Ghost Ship warehouse still stands on 31st Avenue in Oakland with a memory tree crafted to resemble a weeping willow. Mourners still leave mementos on or beneath this symbolic tree.