Two men have been arrested in connection with the Dec. 2, 2016, Oakland warehouse fire that killed 36 people, according to the San Jose Mercury News and other Bay Area outlets. Derick Almena, identified as the founder and “master tenant” of the artist collective that lived illegally in the warehouse known as the Ghost Ship, and Max Harris, the collective's creative director, both face 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, law enforcement sources told the Mercury News. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley will hold a press conference today at 1 p.m. at which she is expected to formally announce the charges.
The Ghost Ship was a well-known arts space in the East Bay underground arts community, which regularly hosted dance parties, concerts and other events, despite not being a permitted venue. It was also home to as many as 18 artists — again, without being permitted as a living space. On the night of Dec. 2, the warehouse was hosting a show featuring artists from L.A.-based label 100% Silk, two of whom — Chelsea Faith Dolan aka Cherushii and Johnny Igaz aka Nackt — were among the fire's victims.
Most of those who died in the blaze are believed to have been in the warehouse's upper level, which was accessible only via a makeshift staircase made of wooden pallets. Some former residents and attendees of previous events at the Ghost Ship later described it as a “tinderbox” and a “death trap.”
Almena and Harris are also among the defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by families of the victims. The warehouse's owner, Chor Ng, also was named in the suit, but for now is not facing any criminal charges. Emails obtained by the Mercury News appear to show that Ng and her son, Kai, who acted as landlord for the warehouse, were aware that the building's electrical systems were not up to code, and that residents had pleaded with owners to make upgrades.
In the wake of the Ghost Ship fire, underground music and arts venues lacking the necessary permits to host events or operate as live-work spaces have been getting shut down all over the country, including here in Los Angeles. “In the wake of the tragedy in Oakland, I think it’s especially important that we be vigilant,” L.A. city attorney Mike Feuer told the L.A. Times a week after the fire.