According to Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick, two people have been arrested in connection with the December fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse that left 36 dead after the dilapidated building went up in flames during a dance party.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that master tenant Derick Almena and warehouse tenant Max Harris, also known as Max Ohr, have been taken into custody and will be charged with 36 counts of manslaughter (although charges have not been confirmed yet). As master tenant, Almena decided who lived and worked at Ghost Ship and collected rent that went to owner Chor Ng. Weirdly, authorities who spoke to that paper did not mention Ng, the “absentee” landlord whose other properties had been cited for illegal housing in non-residential buildings, or his son Kai and daughter Eva, who managed the property, when discussing the charges.
Harris, who described himself as the creative director of the warehouse, ran a tattoo parlor inside the building and worked as doorman for events, including on the night of the fire. Inside, the building was one code violation after another:
Electricity was provided from a wire running through a hole in the wall from an auto body shop next door. People described extension cords running willy-nilly throughout the building, which was a warren of wooden structures, dozens of pianos, house trailers and RVs. People who had been inside called it a deathtrap and a tinderbox.
Records show that the warehouse had been the subject of several visits from the police and fire departments over the years, though issues regarding the illegal housing or outdated wiring were never escalated after initial reports, despite those multiple reports. The slapdash electrical system is believed to be the cause of the fire and was mentioned frequently in emails between tenants, including Almena, and the Ngs:
Just two months before the deadly December blaze that took 36 lives, Harris emailed property managers Kai and Eva Ng about the increasing number of blackouts due to the “overexertion” on the electrical system and warned the Ngs of the “potential of devastating consequences should mishandling or lack of upkeep occur.”
Harris said they blew off his concerns. “Kai Ng totally sidestepped my expression of needing stability,” he said in a phone interview. “I said it was terminal and was getting worse, and he just asked for more money.”
In response to the fire, Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf issued an executive order which made it easier for DIY living spaces and venues to be inspected and re-zoned while also offered enhanced tenant protections.