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.
RELATED: Ghost Ship Trial: heartbreaking last texts from fire victims
"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.
#HAPPENINGNOW #GHOSTSHIPTRIAL Heartbreaking testimony from fire survivor Sam Maxwell, who is in a wheelchair from injuries sustained in fire. “I thought I was going to burn alive on the stairs.” Maxwell says there was “bottleneck” of people at top of stairs he called “dangerous”— Laura Anthony (@LauraAnthony7) May 22, 2019
#HappeningNow #GhostshipTrial “I chose death on the stairs rather than choosing an unknown risk,” Sam Maxwell, testifying from a wheelchair about narrowly escaping the deadly warehouse fire that killed 36 people. #ABC7now @courtart pic.twitter.com/k8GG9M5IG5— Laura Anthony (@LauraAnthony7) May 22, 2019
#HAPPENINGNOW #GHOSTSHIPTRIAL Defense attorney trying to discredit investigation done by former @OaklandFireLive arson investigator Maria Sabatini. Despite defense claims, Sabatini maintains there was no clear evidence of arson after the deadly warehouse fire. #abc7now pic.twitter.com/eu763NDvS2— Laura Anthony (@LauraAnthony7) May 22, 2019