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Criminal charges brought against Ghost Ship pair

Two people have been charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the deadly blaze at the Ghost Ship in Oakland, California, last December.

Thirty-six people lost their lives on 2 December after the converted warehouse, home to a resident artists’ collective, caught fire. The building was described by fire officials as “maze-like and cluttered with objects, including wooden pallets”, and the blaze spawned a crackdown on similarly unlicensed performance venues in California.

Nancy O’Malley, the district attorney of Almeda County in California, suggested shortly after the disaster that those responsible could be charged with murder. Announcing the arrests yesterday of Derick Ion Almena, the Ghost Ship’s manager and promoter, and Max Harris, its ‘creative director’, she said the two men “knowingly created a fire trap with inadequate means of escape, filled it with human beings and are now facing the consequences of their deadly actions.

“My office launched this criminal investigation within hours of the fire, and we have worked steadily for the past six months to ensure that those responsible for these deaths are brought to justice.”

“Their reckless actions were the proximate cause of the death of the 36 individuals trapped inside the warehouse when the fire started”

Almena and Harris are charged with involuntary manslaughter, which differs from murder in that it does not require intent to kill another person. (Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for prescribing the late singer the potentially lethal anaesthetic propofol.)

Among the defendants’ failings, O’Malley’s office alleges, were allowing people to live in the warehousing and “deceiv[ing] the police, fire department and owners about that fact”, allow unlicensed concerts in the building and storing “large quantities of highly [in]flammable materials that created a deadly and dangerous space”.

“Their reckless actions,” says the complaint, “were the proximate cause of the death of the 36 individuals trapped inside the warehouse when the fire started.”

Almena and Harris were taken into custody “without incident” in Lake County and Los Angeles County, respectively, yesterday morning.


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