Ghost Ship fire investigations underway 6 months after deadly fire

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Saturday, June 3, 2017
Ghost Ship Warehouse fire investigations underway 6 months after deadly fire
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Family and friends are mourning the death of their loved ones on the six-month anniversary of Oakland's Ghost Ship warehouse fire that left 36 people dead.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Today marks six months since the devastating fire at the Ghost Ship art collective in Oakland. Thirty-six people passed away, making it the nation's deadliest structure fire in more than a decade. I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes has been digging into the criminal and civil cases underway, and today marks an important deadline for those who lost loved ones.

RELATED: All 36 victims in Ghost Ship warehouse fire identified

They have until today to make a claim against the city of Oakland, for failing to catch the serious problems at the warehouse that led to this tragedy. This case is moving forward on several fronts.

We found a restoration crew hired by insurers at the Ghost Ship this week. They say they can't wait to take the building down, that it would be best for everyone. But the civil and criminal cases must first play out, and that could take many months ... perhaps years.

Robert Weisberg, Director of Stanford's Criminal Justice Center, tells us, "So many people contributed to this that Ms. O'Malley, the District Attorney, is going to have to make some decisions about how many people to charge."

Dan Noyes asked, "You're saying it's not a question of if the chargers are coming, but how many people are going to be charged?"

Weisberg replied, "That's my supposition."

Weisberg believes charges are a certainty because of the conditions at the ghost ship that led to the fire -- the haphazard electrical wiring that often sparked, the r-v's parked inside the building, the fuel load from artwork and collected junk, the rickety staircase made out of wooden pallets that easily burned and made escape impossible.

RELATED: Oakland officials say changes underway 6 months after Ghost Ship fire

And Weisberg believes charges are coming because of many complaints made to the building's owners -- and to the man who leased the warehouse and built ghost ship -- about the dangers there.

"Manslaughter charges and probably manslaughter convictions seem extremely likely here," says Weisberg. "This is as egregious a case of homicide liability for fire as I've seen."

The Alameda County District Attorney's Office would not give us a date for a charging decision in the case, but said they have "a team that consists of multiple attorneys, inspectors and victim advocates all dedicated to this matter, and we are conducting a careful and thorough criminal investigation."

Attorneys for building owner and Oakland resident Chor Ng declined to comment Friday. Renowned defense attorney Tony Serra and his team are working for Derick Almena who leased the building.

They released this report from an unnamed electrical expert claiming the fire actually started in the building next door, and said, "The reasonable doubt here is overwhelming," and that "should reasonably foreclose any criminal negligence charges against Mr. Almena. Recall that the ATF could not conclude where the fire originated."

"The fire absolutely did not start in the building next-door. It started in the ghost ship," responds lead plaintiffs attorney Mary Alexander.

On the civil side, Alexander has filed this complaint naming the building's owner, the man who ran Ghost Ship, PG&E and many others. Alexander has the families of eleven victims as clients, is working with lawyers for other victims, and is urging additional plaintiffs to come forward to meet today's deadline.

RELATED: Families of 10 Oakland Ghost Ship fire victims to file lawsuit

"Government claims should be presented by today and they can be mailed today and then they are valid," explains Alexander. "And a person can do it themselves, they don't have to have a lawyer."

The ABC7 News I-Team reached Derick Almena and his wife, Micah Allison through Facebook several weeks ago. They would not comment directly on the case or what happened that night.

Micah Allison said simply, "Thank you for reaching out. Prayers and blessings are the best medicine for us right now."

Derick Almena wrote, "This story of my criminal worthlessness is killing me ... no matter how clear and proud and miserably sorry I am.... the lies and hate keep stabbing my eyes out... so I live every day... blind for future hope.... it's madness... and I must endure."

Almena also asked for help paying the bills, saying none of the money raised for the Ghost Ship victims and their families has reached him, his wife or their three children.

Here's the entire message:

Click here to read the entire Master Complaint on the Ghost Ship Warehouse.

Click here to read the entire report from Derick Almena's defense team.

Click here for more of ABC7 News' stories, photos, and videos on the Ghost Ship fire.