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Ghost Ship witness testifies Almena laughed at ‘conventional’ improvement, permit suggestion

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The mother of a leaseholder for the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland where 36 people died in a fire in 2016 testified on Tuesday that master tenant Derick Almena laughed at her when she made suggestions for bringing the building up to code.

Katleen Bouchard, the mother of leaseholder Nicholas Bouchard, said she and her son arranged a meeting with Almena and others after her son and Almena signed a lease for the warehouse in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue on Nov. 10, 2013.

Testifying in the trial of Almena, 49, and Ghost Ship creative director Max Harris, 29, who are charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the fire on the night of Dec. 2, 2016, that killed 36 people, Katleen Bouchard said the warehouse “needed a lot of help” and she wanted to help her son and Almena “make it a viable business” that could serve as an artists’ collective.

Bouchard said she did research on the city of Oakland’s website on the rules for starting a business in older buildings such as the warehouse and also found information on getting grants for buildings that are used for artistic purposes.

But Bouchard said Almena “laughed at me” when she, her son and others met with him at a food court in Emeryville and she explained the permitting process and offered to make phone calls to city agencies.

Bouchard said Almena told her that her approach was “conventional” and:

“…he wanted to do things his way.”

Alameda County prosecutors allege that Almena and Harris are criminally responsible for the fire because there was no time and no way for the people at the party to escape since the warehouse didn’t have important safeguards, such as fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and exit signs. Prosecutors also say Almena and Harris violated the terms of the warehouse’s lease by turning it into a living space and hosting underground music parties there.

But attorneys for Almena and Harris allege that the fire was an act of arson that they couldn’t have prevented.

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