Ghost Ship trial: Man testifies he thought he'd die in fire

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A pivotal day of testimony in the ongoing Ghost Ship trial as the prosecution questioned four witnesses in testimony that elicited strong emotions from one of the fire victims' families.

Late Tuesday, Alameda County DA investigator Cinda Stoddard took the stand in the Ghost Ship trial, showing rental contracts and text messages she downloaded from Max Harris' cellphone to prove he claimed responsibility for hosting events at the warehouse.

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Prosecutors also played recordings made by an ATF criminal investigator days after the December 2016 fire in which Max Harris called himself "creative director... I facilitate the division of space." He went on to claim "there are fire extinguishers all over the place," contradicting the testimony of other prosecution witnesses.

Jonathan Axtell, a curriculum designer who was inside the Ghost Ship during the fire, described his escape on the witness stand most of the morning. He talked of thick black smoke and feeling like he wouldn't make it out alive as he came down the stairs.

Under cross-examination, defense attorney Tony Serra asked him to describe an encounter with a blonde woman he ran into on the stairs who was heading up and warning people of the smoke downstairs.

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The mother of Chelsea Faith Dolan, one of the victims who died that night, said the blonde woman was her daughter and she said resented defense attorneys implying her daughter caused people to not go down the stairs and escape.

Coleen Dolan said, "No one tried to go upstairs to warn those people except my daughter and now, I'm telling you, Serra is trying to throw her under the bus. I am beside myself with fury for his slimy tactics."

Defense attorney Tyler Smith said, "We certainly aren't trying to throw anyone under the bus. Six months ago, Ms. Dolan and other victims families said they wanted to have this trial so they could find out what happened. So they are finding out some truths. It's not easy for them to hear but these are facts we are learning as we go."

Testimony continues Wednesday. The defense is expected to start presenting their case next Monday.

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