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$33m settlement for Ghost Ship fire lawsuits

The city of Oakland has reached a $32.7 million settlement with the families of those killed by the tragic blaze at  unlicensed music venue and artists’ collective Ghost Ship in 2016.

The fire, which was the worst structural disaster in northern California since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, killed 36 people in total, most of whom were at Ghost Ship for an electronic music party.

The Oakland City Council has now authorised the settlements of lawsuits filed by the families of 32 victims.

“This was a horrific tragedy that deeply impacted every corner of our community,” reads a statement from the city attorney’s office. According to the statement, the city decided to settle because of the possible legal costs, and does not acknowledge any liability for the incident.

“This was a horrific tragedy that deeply impacted every corner of our community”

Prosecutors contend that Derick Almena, the master tenant on the warehouse lease, was criminally negligent when he converted and sublet the space as a residence for artists and an event venue.

Almena was charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, with a retrial – following an initial mistrial – scheduled for October. A co-defendant, Max Harris, was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter charges last year, while the building’s owner, Chor Ng, has not been charged with a crime.

The blaze, which was believed to have been caused by an electrical fire, echoed another tragic incident at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania, the same year, which claimed the lives of 64 people.

Last year, prison sentences were handed out to 13 people in conjunction with the Colectiv fire, including the venue owners, pyrotechnic specialists and city officials.

Photo: Jim Heaphy/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

 


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Thirteen convicted over Bucharest nightclub fire

A court in the Romanian capital of Bucharest has today (Monday 16 December) handed prison sentences to 13 people in conjunction with a deadly fire that broke out in the 700-capacity Colectiv nightclub in 2015.

The blaze, which started after fireworks ignited inflammable acoustic foam at a show by metalcore band Goodbye to Gravity on 30 October 2015, killed 64 people, including four of the five band members.

The tragic fire sparked sweeping reforms to both venue regulation and the political system in Romania. However, many criticised a lack of punishment for those who played a role in the tragedy.

Now, over four years since the incident, the first convictions have been made, with 13 individuals deemed responsible for the fire receiving a combined 115 years and six months in prison.

In addition to the prison time, the Bucharest court ordered authorities found guilty of negligence to pay €50 million to the survivors of the fire and the families of those who died. Individual amounts range from €50,000 to €900,000.

Colectiv’s owners Anastasescu George Alin, Mincu Costin and Gancea Paul-Cătălin are each facing prison sentences of eleven years and eight months.

Now, over four years since the incident, the first convictions have been made

Niţă Daniela Ioana, the owner of the company that supplied the fireworks, received a sentence of twelve years and eight months in prison, whereas fellow owner Niţă Cristian Mihai was sentenced to three years and six months.

Zaharia Viorel and Moise Marian, pyrotechnic experts working on the show, received sentences of nine years and eight months and ten years in prison respectively.

The former mayor of Bucharest’s sector 4 municipality was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison for issuing operating permits to Colectiv, with other local politicians receiving sentences of between three and eight years.

Two firemen were each handed sentences of nine years and two months.

All convictions can be challenged in a higher court.

A documentary entitled Colectiv, which follows the aftermath of the fire and ensuing anti-corruption investigations, premiered at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

Photo: Eugen Simion/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0

 


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Blaze destroys ‘unlicensed’ Bucharest club Bamboo

Bamboo, the Bucharest nightclub which burnt down early on Saturday morning, injuring more than 40 people, did not have an operating licence, a local government spokesman has revealed.

According to eyewitness reports, the blaze – which has echoes of the deadly fire at the Colectiv club, which lacked the proper fire permits, in October 2015 – was sparked by clubgoers smoking inside the venue. In a statement, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis said the city had been “very close to another big tragedy. Rules and laws have apparently been broken again.”

A number of Bucharest venues lacking fire exits were shuttered in the aftermath of the Colectiv disaster, which left 64 dead, and several more, including Expirat, La Bonne Bouche and Biutiful, were forced to close by a new law forbidding public gatherings in buildings considered to be unsafe in the event of an earthquake. Smoking was also banned indoors.

Speaking to Mediafax, a spokesman for Sector 2 – one of six administrative units (sectoare) of the city of Bucharest – said Bamboo had recently been fined for operating without a licence. “The club had a building permit for an expansion, which had been issued in 2012, but the work hadn’t been finalised,” he explained. “The club didn’t have an operating licence and was fined last year. This year, they were going to be fined again.”

The 2,000-capacity club, one of Romania’s most famous, opened in 2002 and was rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 2005.

“The club didn’t have an operating licence and was fined last year. This year, they were going to be fined again”

The blaze comes after a series of early victories for fledgling Romanian promoters’ association Aroc. Founded in September 2016 – partly in response to the Colectiv fire – its members include ARTmania Festival, Emagic, Electric Castle Festival, Summer Well Festival, Sunwaves Festival, Twin Arts, Metalhead, Amphitrion, Wise Factor, Plai Festival and Mozaic Jazz Festival.

“Romanian promoters have never been actively involved in the process of regulating or controlling it [the industry], Aroc chairwoman Codruţa Vulcu, of ARTMania, says. “What became clear after the Colectiv fire, where we all lost friends and colleagues, is that we need to be better organised so that safety is improved everywhere and the professionals who work so hard in this country to put on concerts and festivals are not associated with those elements who cut corners and ignore regulations just to make a quick profit.”

Aroc has already helped block legislation that would have seen 5% of gross ticketing income diverted to a private association – run by the parties who introduced the legislation. Noting the private sector’s outrage, Vulcu says: “How can this even be a discussion in parliament? To tax the people who are investing in the cultural sector and centralise funds, with this private association having the legal right to use the money as it pleases?”

Vulcu vows Aroc’s members are determined to stand their ground and keep pushing for a “less corrupt sector, equitable legislation and a safer industry.”

 


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Colectiv fire: One year on

Together with the attack on the Bataclan some two weeks later, the tragic fire at the 700-capacity Colectiv nightclub in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, on 30 October 2015 is one of the worst disasters to hit the European live music industry – and Europe in general – in living memory. Sixty-four people are known to have died and close to 150 were injured, with many still in hospital, after pyrotechnics ignited inflammable acoustic foam at a show by metalcore band Goodbye to Gravity, with up to 500 people in attendance.

At an event commemorating a year since the disaster last Sunday, Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, paid tribute to the victims and praised the changes implemented in the wake of the disaster, which include the mass closure of unsafe venues, the introduction of an indoor smoking ban and the election of a new ‘technocratic’, non-politically affiliated government led by Dacian Cioloș after the resignation of the previous prime minister, Victor Ponta, amid mass anti-corruption protests triggered by the fire.

“Romania has changed,” he said. “A year later, things have changed for the better. Safety checks are clearer and more common at event venues.”

“A year later, things have changed for the better”

However, Iohannis criticised the speed of investigations into the cause of the fire: public prosecutors have yet to bring anyone to trial for their role in the disaster, despite Colectiv only having one exit and reportedly being well over capacity on the night of the fire. “After one year, we would like to know who is responsible for this terrible accident,” he said.

Speaking to the Associated Press, ‘Flueras’, a 32-year-old music photographer, said survivors are still awaiting the trial of the club’s owners and those involved in the firework show. “Unfortunately, there is no precedent and things haven’t moved quickly,” he said. “The trial hasn’t begun and we are [still] in a preliminary phase.”

In addition to the criminal trials, a total of 248 people are suing Colectiv representatives for damages of more than €212 million.

At ILMC 28 in March, Codruta Vulcu, festival director of Transylvania’s ARTmania, said it “took a tragedy for the government” to take notice of Romania’s music scene. “We have festivals, we have shows, but we have no regulations ­– or when they do exist they’re not enforced,” she said. “After the fire, the government realised the [55,000-capacity] National Arena had no fire licence!”

“There are more fire extinguishers at clubs and concerts, but I don’t think society is more aware”

Some progress has been made since then: a number of Bucharest venues lacking fire exits were shuttered in the aftermath of the disaster, and several more, including Expirat, La Bonne Bouche and Biutiful, were forced to close by a new law forbidding public gatherings in buildings considered to be unsafe in the event of an earthquake. (A 5.6-magnitude earthquake hit Vrancea county on 23 September.)

Cioloș’s government also banned smoking in enclosed areas, including bars, venues and restaurants, as of 16 March.

Despite these reforms, many Romanians remain unconvinced the country would be better equipped to deal with another Colectiv should it happen today. “We did not learn a lot from what happened,” Razvan Braileanu, a journalist and musician who survived the fire, tells Reuters’s Romanian correspondent, Luiza Ilie, adding that from his flat he regularly sees fire engines struggling to squeeze past cars parked in his narrow street.

“Sure, there are more fire extinguishers at clubs and concerts – but I don’t think society is more aware.”

“The private sector is now approaching the government to say let’s regulate the industry, let’s make laws a lot clearer”

Speaking to IQ, Vulcu – now also president of newly formed Romanian concert promoters’ association Aroc, which includes ARTmania, the Electric Castle, Sunwaves and Summerwell festivals and Romania’s biggest concert promoter, Emagic – says if there’s one positive to be drawn from the disaster, it’s that Cioloș’s non-political government is now listening to the music industry.

For the first time since the fall of communism, she says, “we’ve found support from the government”, with ministers willing to properly regulate the Romanian live sector. “The private sector is now approaching the [government] to say let’s regulate [the industry], let’s make laws a lot clearer,” she explains. “They say, ‘We understand, we’ll try to change things.'”

Vulcu’s relief at having what she calls Romania’s “first respectable government” in 25 years is, however, tempered by the spectre of the “old communists” in the PSD (Social Democratic Party) returning to power in the upcoming general election on 11 December. She says she “truly hopes”, for the sake of the Romanian music industry, that “this technocrat prime minister [Cioloș] will be willing to say on as an independent”.

 


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