Ghost Ship defense report deflects blame for deadly fire

Lawyers for a man who is the subject of an investigation and lawsuit over the infamous Ghost Ship warehouse fire that killed 36 people in Oakland have publicized a report they claim casts doubt on his culpability.

The lawyers for Derick Ion Almena, the warehouse master tenant, said Monday┬áthat the report “should reasonably foreclose any criminal negligence charges against” their client.

The ten-page document titled “Was Ghost Ship fire caused by inadequate Utility Wiring?” seeks to cast doubt on Almena’s responsibility by, in part, suggesting that the fire originated in the warehouse next to the Ghost Ship, not inside the artist enclave itself.

The report, compiled by Almena’s legal team, which includes well-known defense attorney Tony Serra, reads like an expert witness analysis of the fire and runs through technical explanations focused on the building’s PG&E power supply.

The report says:

“(T)here appears to be a single feed that goes in to the (neighboring) building to serve multiple customers. … It also appears that there is fire affecting more than just the Ghost Ship occupied section.”

The report, illustrated by several photographs and a diagram that purports to show the building’s external PG&E connections, says there is no direct utility connection to the Ghost Ship warehouse and that the connection to the warehouse next door is “undersized.”

Also, some kind of electrical equipment was on a pole secured to the roof of the neighboring warehouse but that equipment “was removed post fire,” according to the report:

“Did the equipment now removed catch fire or was it the point of origin?”

A lawyer for the families of two people killed in the Dec. 2 fire dismissed the report as irrelevant. Attorney Mary Alexander said:

“Wherever the fire started, and I’m not saying it was next door, the people couldn’t get out and it’s because of (Almena) building this makeshift second floor (and) makeshift stairs. … They couldn’t find a way out. (There were) no sprinklers, exit signs, light for exits. (There was) only one way out that (the victims) could find and then it’s a maze to get out.”

Also, the music event did not have the proper permits to proceed, Alexander said. Alexander represents the families of Michela Gregory and Griffin Madden, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Dec. 23 against Chor Ng, the owner of the warehouse.

Also named are Almena and his wife, Micah Allison.

Alexander said:

“In my view he can’t get off the hook. … It’s beyond a reasonable doubt that he contributed to the deaths of these people.”

The suit also targets that night’s performer, Joel Shanahan, whose stage name is Golden Donna, Jon Hrabko and a business called “100 % Silk,” claiming they, along with Almena and Allison, were organizers of the event, which was attended by at least 100 people.

In addition, two men who leased buildings neighboring the Ghost Ship warehouse, Daniel Lopez and Omar Vega, are also named in the suit, which claims the pair provided electricity to the warehouse and bathroom access to event attendees. A separate suit was also filed against the City of Oakland and Alameda County.

The Oakland Fire Department is currently working on its own report about the cause of the fire. When it’s completed, that report will be forwarded to the Alameda County district attorney’s office, which will then decide whether criminal charges are warranted.

A spokeswoman with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has been assisting in the investigation, said the fire department’s report is still being compiled.

District attorney’s spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said:

“We are in the midst of our investigation. Until that is complete, I cannot comment further on our findings, nor opine on the assertions of Mr. Serra and his team.”