A San Francisco Bay Area man has pleaded guilty in a case connected to a 2016 warehouse dance party fire that resulted in 36 people dying.
Derick Almena, 50, converted an industrial Oakland warehouse into a residence and event space for artists named “Ghost Ship.” The space, a two-story building, had no fire detectors or sprinklers and was fully decked out with flammable material and extension cords. The second floor of the space was also illegally constructed, according to AP News.
On Dec. 2, 2016, Almena hosted a dance party at the warehouse, and a fire broke out, killing 36 people. With little to no time to react and the flames growing quickly, partygoers could not escape, and their only exit was a ragged, narrow staircase.
On Friday, the master tenant pleaded guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in exchange for a 12-year sentence. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson read each count with the victim’s name, the outlet reports. In 2019, a split jury couldn’t decide whether to convict Almena, who leased the building. Max Harris, Ghost Ship’s creative director, and rent collector, was found not guilty at the same trial.
Almena is currently free on bail; however, he was in jail until 2017 when he was released over coronavirus concerns and after posting a $150,000 bail bond. AP News reports that he will more than likely not return to jail after spending three years there with credit for good behavior. Right now, he is on house arrest with an ankle monitor in Upper Lake, where he lives with his wife and children.
Almena is scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on March 8, where Thompson will decide if Almena will have to pay restitution, continue to be monitored, or be subjected to supervised probation. At that time, the families of the victims will be able to give their impact statements.
One of the victim’s mothers, Colleen Dolan, told the East Bay Times that families were not informed of the plea deal possibility before last Wednesday.“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,” she said.