Ghost Ship leaseholder pleads guilty to deaths of 36 people from 2016 fire
Derick Almena, the leaseholder and manager of Oakland's DIY space Ghost Ship that was incinerated in a horrific December 2, 2016 fire, has plead guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter from the incident.
Today's guilty pleas were part of a deal where he is expected to serve between nine and 12 years in prison. Sentencing has been scheduled for March 8. Almena has been out on bail since May and The Pacifica Tribune says it's unlikely that Almena will return to prison as he spent nearly three years incarcerated, plus credit for good behavior. The judge at sentencing will decide whether he will continue to be monitored electronically for an additional 18 months followed by three years of supervised probation.
This was Almena's second trial over the fire. His first was in 2019 which resulted in a hung jury; before that a 2018 plea bargain, that would have had him serve six to nine years, was thrown out by the judge. Co-defendant Max Harris, who was Ghost Ship's "creative director," was acquitted of charges in 2019.
Prosecutors say Almena was criminally negligent when he allowed the space to be converted into an illegal club. The probable cause document stated that Almena "allowed and encouraged tenants to use nonconventional building materials that he collected to create their living spaces" which included "recycled dry wood, such as fence boards, shingles, window frames, wooden sculptures, tapestries, pianos, organs, wooden furniture, RV trailers, rugs, and other ramshackle pieces." Extension cords powered much of the space, which had no smoke detectors or sprinklers.
The 2016 blaze happened during an electronic dance music party where attendees were trapped in the building's second floor with almost no chance to escape before flames engulfed the space.
Colleen Dolan, who is the mother of one of the Ghost Ship victims, Chelsea Faith Dolan, wrote in an East Bay Times editorial that families were not told of the possibility of a plea deal ahead of time. “My heart dropped, especially when I heard it was going to be a slap on the wrist. I want my daughter back; we want to be with our family members who died. He gets to be with his family."