Derick Ion Almena and Max Harris took over the aging warehouse in Oakland with hopes of creating an affordable space for artists and musicians to live and work in the Bay Area’s overheated housing market.
But prosecutors said what they actually created was a deathtrap.
Almena, the manager of the so-called Ghost Ship, undertook a series of unregulated construction projects that turned the industrial space into illegal dwellings, charging residents $300 to $1,400. Authorities say the men filled the building from “floor to ceiling” with tapestries, pianos and furniture, turning the Ghost Ship into a tinderbox.
On Dec. 2, 2016, nearly 100 people piled into the warehouse for a concert, and Harris, the venue’s “creative director,” blocked off a stairwell that served as a secondary exit, authorities said. So when a fire began burning through all the debris, prosecutors allege, concertgoers and residents had only one way out — a narrow, rickety staircase. Thirty-six people could not make it out and died in one of the deadliest fires in modern California history.
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