It’s been almost three years since the tragic warehouse fire that killed 36 people in attendance for a DIY concert held by the residing Ghost Ship art collective master tenant Derick Almena and his assistant Max Harris. The two were arrested on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter due to the incidents that occurred on the night of December 2nd, 2016. The Ghost Ship was described by Harris as a place where “everybody brought their insights to the table”, the warehouse was a chill area to hangout and listen to music. It was decorated with furniture, pianos, rugs, even small living spaces, all of which were extremely flammable. Although the cause of the fire was never determined, prosecutors asses that an electrical fire is most likely the cause of the incident.
The master tenant of the Ghost Ship, Derick Almena, and his assistant, Max Harris, had failed to comply with the buildings permit. They never installed the required smoke detectors, fire alarms, sprinklers, and other required safety equipment which could’ve potentially saved the lives of those in attendance. During his hearing, Harris states that the landlord of the building hired unlicensed electrician workers from the auto body shop next door to perform electrical work on the warehouse. He also claims that he had to call the body shop to have the same unlicensed electricians replace the buildings fuses, which could explain the source of the fire.
Max Harris was found not guilty on 36 counts of involuntarily manslaughter back in September, however his boss, Derick Almena, isn’t so lucky. While the jury was able to acquit Harris of the manslaughter charges, they were stuck in a 10-2 deadlock over the fate of Derick Almena. Almena attempted to take a plea deal back in July 2018, pleading no contest in exchange for a prison sentence less than 10 years. But the deal was subsequently rejected by the judge, stating that he felt Mr. Almena hadn’t accepted full responsibility and remorse for his part in the warehouse fire. Many of the victims families are struggling with the decision of a mistrial, feeling that the judicial system failed to deliver justice. No date has been set for Derick Almena’s retrial, but one thing to keep in mind is not only did the two fail to comply with the buildings permits, but they also violated the lease agreement by transforming the warehouse into a living area housing up to 25 people where underground music parties took place regularly.
Photo Credit: Kellie MacDougall