ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: Ghost Ship founder's close associates talk to I-Team

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The man who leased the building and sub-letted to many other people has not directly addressed the dangers in the Ghost Ship warehouse, but the I-Team is learning more from people close to him. (KGO-TV)

Two people are speaking out and shedding new light on the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in exclusive interviews with the ABC7 I-Team's Dan Noyes.

Those interviews and a search of public records confirms the City of Oakland was warned of potential fire hazards and safety dangers inside the building. At least six complaints were filed with the City of Oakland since June of 2014 and building inspectors had visited the property more than once in the last two years-the most recent visit less than a month before the fire.

While the man who ran the artists' cooperative, leased the building, sub-let space to artists and organized parties has not directly addressed questions about conditions inside the structure, people close to him have come forward.

Mariah Benavides was just 16-years-old when she worked as a nanny for Derick Ion Almena and his wife. She told Investigative Reporter Dan Noyes the couple would leave their three kids with her "for days" while they organized raves for profit at locations around the Bay Area.

RELATED: Three face questions about Ghost-ship-warehouse-fire/1641268/

"They would kind of go off and do their own thing and be gone for 3-5 days sometimes leaving us with food at the house and be like, okay, have fun," Benavides said.

The former nanny says after Almena started renting the Ghost Ship Warehouse, she visited two years ago.

She describes the interior as looking even more cluttered than what it looks like in pictures posted on Almena's website.

PHOTOS: A look inside the Oakland Ghost Ship collective warehouse


"What you see now is organized chaos, before that it was just kind of everywhere. It was kind of everywhere, almost post-apocalyptic in a way."

Almena and his wife began holding dance parties and raves in that crowded space. A video from June 2016 shows a D-J set up on the second floor of the warehouse-reached only by a rickety staircase made out of scrap wood.

Benavides told ABC-7 Investigative Reporter Dan Noyes, "I remember specifically going up that staircase and not feeling safe at all."

A former friend of Almena, Danielle Boudreau said, "You couldn't have more than two people on the staircase before it would just fall down."

Firefighters say many people died when they couldn't make it down that narrow rickety staircase. The building was zoned strictly as a warehouse and the daughter of the building's owner told the Los Angeles Times they didn't know people were living there.

PHOTOS: Some of the victims of the tragic Oakland Ghost Ship fire


But neighbors say they complained to police and city officials about the parties and the mess that flowed onto the sidewalk from the Ghost Ship Warehouse repeatedly.

The city provided a list of complaints about the building.

One complaint listed in city records as being filed on November 14th, 2016, sparked the still on-going "pending investigation" into an "Illegal interior building structure".

City records show another complaint filed the day before that describing, "...a ton of garbage piling up on the property."
The complaint alleged some of the trash was hazardous and the problem "creates health issue".

One neighbor is too distraught about the deaths to show his face but agreed to speak out in silhouette.

"This situation is a broken heart for everybody. And I really don't want the same issue to happen again in the future," he said.

The man told Dan Noyes he complained repeatedly about the parties and the dangerous conditions at the building. He says that on at least two occasions, city inspectors came out but failed to follow through.
TIMELINE: Complaints against Ghost Ship warehouse since 2014

"The inspector told me he was not able to get inside the property," he said.
Dan Noyes asked him, "And they wouldn't let him in?"
"Exactly," he replied.

Oakland's Interim Director of Planning and Building Darin Ranelletti said, "We're investigating permit history and complaint and enforcement actions on the property."

He said there is a lot of information to go through and they had a team working on it all weekend. He said he couldn't say when they might have some answers.

"I don't have a time frame right now. You know it's not just the planning and building records-we're also coordinating with the fire department and the police department. It's important for us to build a whole story of what happened at that property."

Ranelletti said it is important for the city and the victims that the information be complete and accurate.

He told us his staff is grieving along with the rest of the city, "This is a horrible tragedy but I'd like to think that we've prevented so many other tragedies from happening."

RELATED: Oakland fire helpline, information for families

If you are trying to locate a loved one, or need information call 510-382-3000.

Click here for all ABC7 News stories, videos, and photos from the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.
Related Topics:
newsghost ship firesearchfire deathinvestigationOPDI-TeamOakland
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