Ghost Ship Fire Trial: Oakland firefighter takes stand for defense

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A witness for the defense, handyman Troy Altieri, took the stand and told the jury that several Oakland firefighters who were inside the Ghost Ship warehouse took a tour from Derick Almena two years before the deadly fire, and even danced on the second floor.

Almena's friend Joe Rodriguez said he saw them too and that several returned the following day for a pig roast.

"They have categorically denied they went in," said Almena's attorney Tony Almena. "And we at the end of this case will have three witnesses who said not only did they go in, they took a tour and one occasion they were dancing."

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But Altieri also told the jury the front stairs of the warehouse were "rinky" and "makeshift," contrary to defense claims that they were stable and not the reason 36 people died the night of the fire.

Attorneys for Ghost Ship defendant Max Harris finished their case by putting an Oakland firefighter on the stand who attended a Christmas party at the warehouse two years before the December 2016 fire.

Salvador Garcia told the jury he attended a potluck party with his wife, who worked at the same school attended by Derick Almena's oldest daughter.

Garcia testified he spent the majority of the time on the second floor of the Ghost Ship and that he never saw anything that concerned him, despite his experience conducting fire inspections.

"There was nothing there when I was there that made me feel unsafe," said Salvador.

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"He did not realize there were any safety issues. He went up the stairs. He wasn't alarmed as a firefighter," said Curtis Briggs, Harris' attorney.

Later, former Ghost Ship resident Olivia Prink testified that she saw three Oakland firefighters inside the building talking with Derick Almena after a small arson fire outside in 2014.

And a woman who operated a salon in the building adjacent to the Ghost Ship testified that a fire exit in her second-story unit was always blocked, an issue she said the owners of the building, the Ng family, refused to address.
"I was worried about not being able to escape if there was an earthquake or a fire," testified Griselda Ceja as she wiped away tears.

Family members of those who died in the Ghost Ship, most of them guests not residents, spoke outside of court.

"She wants to take the chance that she may die. She's taking that for herself. The same as the people who are in the Ghost Ship. If they want to live like Hobbits that's nice for them," said Ivania Chavarria who lost a son in the fire.

The defense is expected to call Derick Almena's wife to the stand next week followed at some point by Almena himself.
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