Ghost Ship Owner Faces Life Imprisonment, Mass-Murder Charges

Ghost Ship Collective Owner
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Derick Almena, owner of the Ghost Ship collective, spoke to the media for the first time Tuesday morning.  Now, a very serious criminal investigation is just getting started.

In an interview with the Today Show, Almena declined to assume full responsibility for the ‘mass grave’ that has claimed 36 lives.  But he did offer remorse, saying ‘I’m sorry’ repeatedly while refusing to take full responsibility for the incident.

Instead, Almena pointed to a ‘dream’ that involved giving overlooked artists and marginalized people a shot.

Derick Almena is not the owner of the warehouse, but is the leaseholder.  The owners themselves declined to comment, though he building itself was not permitted for residential or event use.  Several permit violations and complaints were unresolved.  Almena, who drew revenue from massive parties and shows, failed to outfit the space with sprinklers.

Fire officials said there were two working exits for the entire space.  In a press conference, local fire officials said that the body count will likely remain at 36.

Almena may have repeatedly disregarded violations and warnings.  On Tuesday, he vaguely alluded to skirting the necessary measures.  “Sometimes your dream is bigger than your pocketbook,” Almena said, while saying the warehouse met code.  “It was to city standards supposedly,” Almena said.

That isn’t true, however, which introduces the possibility of severe criminal penalties.  For starters, Alemena housed his family at the warehouse, though his three children were staying at a hotel the night of the fire.  Others weren’t so lucky, and Ghost Ship was collecting rent from boarders.  It was also collecting considerable amounts from a string of live events, while somehow ducking city inspections.

Blame game begins.

Exactly where Oakland city inspectors were in all of this remains an open question.  There were multiple visits, citations, and other incidents on record, though parties weren’t shut down.  City officials, including the police and fire departments, failed to take action against the warehouse.

That opens a vicious blame game among inept city officials, a game we’ve seen before.  But criminal charges against city officials for negligence are rare.  Similar charges against individuals, especially those profiting privately, are common.

Obama weighs in.

And there’s now tons of pressure being applied.  This is the worst structural disaster experienced in Northern California since the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

President Obama weighed in on the disaster Monday, saying his administration was working “to make sure that authorities have everything they need as they continue response operations and investigate the cause of the fire.”

“While we still don’t know the full toll of this disaster, we do know that an American community has been devastated.  And many people — including young men and women with their whole futures ahead of them — have tragically lost their lives.  Oakland is one of the most diverse and creative cities in our country.  And as families and residents pull together in the wake of this awful tragedy, they will have the unwavering support of the American people.”

Murder charges?

For Almena, who has declined to publicly admit guilt, the punishment could be draconian.  The highly-public nature of the fire raises the possibility of severe criminal penalties, with murder charges and long imprisonment one possibility.

Enter Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, who started a full criminal investigation this week.  According to O’Malley murder charges are definitely possible.

“The range of charges could be murder all the way to involuntary manslaughter,” O’Malley said. “We won’t know until we finish our investigation.”

At present, that introduces murder charges involving 36 different people.

Of the 36, several names of victims have now been released.

  • Cash Askew, 22, Oakland
  • David Cline, 24, Oakland
  • Travis Hough, 35, Oakland
  • Donna Kellogg, 32, Oakland
  • Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, Coronado
  • Sara Hoda, 30, Walnut Creek
  • Brandon Wittenauer, 32, Hayward

A 17-year-old victim will remain unidentified.

More as this develops.






2 Responses

  1. gina

    The City of Oakland should also be held accountable for not doing their jobs.