Attorney: Warehouse fire defendant is near mental breakdown

OAKLAND, Calif. -- An attorney for the operator of an Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire where 36 people died in a fire says his client is experiencing a near mental breakdown.

Lawyer Tony Serra spoke at a news conference, using a photo of his client, Derick Almena, and his family as a backdrop.

Serra said Almena is experiencing "almost total destruction of his mental stability." Jeffrey Krasnoff, another attorney for Almena, said he was "deeply distraught."

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"People died in his house. He is definitely having mental problems processing this, like anyone would," Krasnoff said.

Authorities say Almena, 47, rented the warehouse and illegally converted it into low-cost housing for artists and an entertainment venue.

He appeared in court on Thursday but did not enter a plea. His arraignment on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter was continued until June 15.

Almena and a second man, Max Harris, 27, were arrested Monday after a six-month investigation of the Dec. 2 fire that occurred during an unpermitted electronic music concert at the building known as the Ghost Ship.

Almena leased the building and Harris helped him sublet space to tenants and promoters, even though the warehouse was not licensed for housing or entertainment, prosecutors said.

They said the site was cluttered with highly flammable material and the suspects failed to provide adequate fire safety systems.

PHOTOS: A look inside the Oakland Ghost Ship collective warehouse

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