Survivor of Oakland Ghost Ship fire shares emotional testimony

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Sam Maxwell is one of the few people who survived the Ghost Ship fire, though his life was forever changed by it.

Speaking in halting fashion with translation from a speech therapist--Maxwell testified from his wheelchair--about the night of Dec. 2, 2016.

Maxwell had been to the Ghost Ship before for music events. He called the front stairway "dangerous" with a section that looked like a "boat ramp."

Once the fire broke out, he said there was a bottleneck at those stairs.

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"The stairs were difficult for anyone to navigate," said Maxwell, who suffered burns, nerve damage, and irreversible brain damage in the fire. "I thought I was going to burn alive on those stairs."

"To see someone who was there, in the fire, how unsafe those stairs were and how scary the fire was," said Ben Fritz, who lost his sister Riley Fritz aka Feral Pines in the fire. "To know that my sister was in there, to know that's how she died was very painful to hear."

"We're not worried about Mr. Maxwell's testimony," said Curtis Briggs, attorney for defendant Max Harris. "We're glad he got an opportunity to speak out. We think it's important for him in his process moving forward as far as healing."
RELATED: Ghost Ship Trial: Investigator says no sign of arson

The defense then resumed its cross-examination of retired Oakland arson investigator Maria Sabatini--demanding to know why the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' National Response Team was not called in for a fire with so many deaths.

Sabatini maintained ATF investigators were among many on scene, though the National Response Team was not.

Defense attorneys for Derick Almena and Harris claim the deadly fire was arson, although Sabatini and others found no such evidence.

"She's incompetent, that she's hiding the truth, that she's trying to protect the city," said David Stein, a defense counsel brought in specifically to cross-examine Sabatini.

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