Nearly six months ago, on December 2, 2016, a deadly fire raged out of control in Oakland, CA, through a warehouse converted into an artists’ collective called the Ghost Ship. The total number artists and musicians who died in the inferno was 36.

On Monday, Nancy O’Malley, District Attorney, Alameda County, CA, announced that Max Ohr and Derrick Ion Almena were arrested in California and could face as many as 39 years incarcerated if convicted of 36 count of involuntary manslaughter filed against them. Ohr was arrested in Los Angeles and Almena was arrested in Lake County.

The Ghost Ship was not only a collective for art, it was also a communal residence. The building was rented by Almena, while Ohr, also known as Max Harris, was its creative director. According to O’Malley, the defendants “knowingly” created a space with insufficient means to escape when the area was filled with people.

Since 2014, Almena allowed Ohr to live in the Ghost Ship (warehouse) and made Ohr its creative director, according to the district attorney’s probable cause document Ohr acted as a go-between for Almena and the warehouse owners, collected rent, and mediated tenants’ disputes with one another.

Ghost Ship lacked smoke detectors and sprinklers

The Ghost Ship was housed in a 10,000 square-foot building sans smoke detectors and sprinklers.

Between the first and the second floors, there was a make-shift stairway created with wooden pallets and only two exterior doors, according to officials.

While the building had a warehouse permit, it was leased to the artists’ collective. Flames engulfed the second floor of the building in December during an illegal late night, rave-style dance party.

Not since the 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island has the United States experienced a more deadly fire.

According to Oakland Police Department reports, as well as accounts from former tenants and visitors, the police received numerous complaints about the building and, at least a half-dozen times, police went inside.

Fire victims had only one exit to escape inferno

The defendants were criminally negligent, according to O’Malley, since they let people live inside the warehouse, which was not known to the owners, the fire department, or the city. It is alleged that they also permitted illegal construction and storage spanning floor-to-ceiling, which was highly flammable.

She further stated that Almena and Harris blocked one exit as party-goers arrived and gathered. The pathway to remaining exit had no light. Guests paid $10 each to attend and what they faced was nearly impossible to escape.

Almena’s attorneys stated that they will vigorously defend their client in court. He is represented by Tony Serra, Jeffrey Krasnoff, and Kyndra Miller, who also called the charges against Almena a miscarriage of justice.

The family of 20-year-old San Francisco State University student Michela Gregory filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Oakland and against Alameda County. The suit contends that the city’s negligence cause Gregory’s death in the fire. She was found with her boyfriend of five years, Alex Vega, age 22. The two were embracing. They worked in Daly City at Duggan’s Serra Mortuary during the nightshift.

The cause of the fire might never be determined, according to authorities. Flames destroyed most of the evidence.

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