Grieving Families Slam Oakland’s Ghost Ship Fire ‘Sweetheart’ Plea Deal

Oakland's Ghost Ship after the blaze.
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Oakland's Ghost Ship after the blaze.
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Oakland’s Ghost Ship after the blaze.

Back in December 2016, a fire at an Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship claimed the lives of three dozen partygoers inside.

More recently, the two men held responsible for the deaths pled no contest to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter.  Many of the family members of the victims are now testifying with regard to their lost loved ones.  And they aren’t happy with the plea deal.

Derick Almena and Max Harris were the two men who pled guilty to charges. Almena was considered responsible for illegally turning the warehouse into a “housing and entertainment space.” He will receive a nine-year prison sentence while Harris will serve a six-year prison sentence.

Harris was responsible for collecting rent and scheduling various concerts for the warehouse.

Relatives of the 36 people who were killed in the fire are speaking out against what they believe is a deal that is “too lenient.”

According to the LA Times, Cyrus Hoda referred to the plea deal as a “sweetheart deal.”  Hoda is the brother of Sarah Hoda, a 30-year-old woman who perished in the fire.  He called Almena and Harris “culture vultures,” and chastised the pair for bringing people to such a dangerous spot for parties and living arrangements.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley had previously argued that the two men created a “death trap” at the Oakland warehouse since it was full of highly-flammable objects. The building’s exits were also obstructed and there weren’t “adequate safety precautions” ahead of the building’s public use.

Families of the victims also filed a lawsuit against the Oakland Fire Department for their failure to make an annual warehouse inspection which could have revealed the illegal use of the building.

Almena and Harris have spent the past year behind bars.

The maximum punishment for the two men found responsible for the fire could have been life in prison.  However, both are now looking at potentially serving just half of the agreed-upon sentences, depending on whether they exhibit good behavior while behind bars.

During the hearing, Judge James Cramer reminded the family members of the victims to try to keep their emotions under control as it would be “a heart-wrenching hearing.” At one point, Colleen Dolan, the mother of 33-year-old fire victim Chelsea Dolan, attempted to present a coroner’s photo of her daughter’s charred body but the judge told her it had already been shown.

Dolan said she “had to kiss that burned body goodbye,” adding she is now “angry and bereft.”

Amanda Allen Kershaw was a 34-year-old victim in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.  Her family made the trip from Boston to be at the sentencing hearing.  After the hearing, Kershaw’s brother said he didn’t feel “justice has been fully served.”



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