Home Uncategorized ‘Ghost Ship’ Organizer Pleads Guilty in Warehouse Fire That Killed 36 People

‘Ghost Ship’ Organizer Pleads Guilty in Warehouse Fire That Killed 36 People

The master tenant of a San Francisco Bay Area warehouse where 36 people perished when a fire ignited during a 2016 dance party pleaded guilty Friday to the deaths, avoiding a second trial after the first ended in a hung jury.

Derick Almena, 50, pleaded guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in exchange for a 12-year sentence. Already free on bail, Almena likely won’t return to jail because of the nearly three years he already spent behind bars and credit for good behavior.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson read each count with the name of the victim. When she asked Almena his plea for each charge, he answered “guilty,” but his quiet responses were sometimes inaudible through an online stream of the hearing held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Thompson scheduled sentencing for March 8, when she will determine whether he will pay restitution, continue to be monitored electronically at his home in rural Northern California and be subject to supervised probation. Families of the victims will be allowed to give victim impact statements at that time.

Prosecutors say Almena was criminally negligent when he illegally converted the industrial Oakland warehouse into a residence and event space for artists dubbed the “Ghost Ship,” stuffing the two-story building with flammable materials and extension cords. It had no smoke detectors or sprinklers.

The Dec. 2, 2016, fire broke out at the warehouse during an electronic music and dance party, moving so quickly that victims were trapped on the illegally constructed second floor. Prosecutors said the victims received no warning and had little chance to escape down a narrow, ramshackle staircase.

The case has been emotionally wrenching for family and friends of the victims. Many of them packed a courtroom for months in 2019, only to see a jury split on whether to convict Almena, who leased the building. The jury also found co-defendant Max Harris, who was the Ghost Ship’s “creative director” and rent collector, not guilty at the same trial.

Zita Gregory, grandmother of victim Michela Gregory, said Almena’s punishment could never compare to the pain and suffering her family has endured the last four years. She said her husband, already in ill health from cancer, died a year after Michela.

“His condition got worse. He used to say, ‘Why didn’t God take me instead?’” Gregory said in a tearful interview.

Another grandchild who was born on Dec. 2 no longer celebrates her birthday on that solemn date, Gregory said.

“The fire destroyed our family — we have never been the same,” she said. “There’s never going to be just punishment for what all the victims lost.”

Almena had been jailed since 2017 until he was released in May because of coronavirus concerns and after posting a $150,000 bail bond. He is on house arrest with an ankle monitor in the city of Upper Lake, where he lives with his wife and children.

Must Read

Taylor Swift Is Obsessed With Stephen Colbert In Hilarious ‘Late Show’ Segment

There’s one man who, for more than a decade, has been hankering to know just who Taylor Swift was referring to in her Fearless...

Televisa, Univision to Merge, Forming Spanish-Language Media Powerhouse

Two of the biggest Spanish-language media companies in the world are planning to merge. Mexico’s Televisa and Univision are set to combine media, production and...

Demi Lovato’s Eating Disorder Comedy Pilot Gets NBC Order

Demi Lovato’s comedy series about a group of people with eating disorders is getting a pilot order at NBC. The singer-actress is set to star and executive...

Demi Lovato’s ‘Dancing With the Devil…’ Debuts at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Album Sales Chart

Demi Lovato’s Dancing With the Devil… The Art of Starting Over debuts at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart (dated April 17)....

Morgan Wallen Says He Won’t Perform Live This Summer But ‘My Story Is Far From Over’

On Tuesday evening (April 13), embattled country star Morgan Wallen announced he would be stepping away from performing live for the remainder of the...