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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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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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Venue shuttered in post-Oakland safety push

A ‘DIY’ venue and cultural space in Denver, Colorado, has been closed for “numerous serious fire code violations” following the deadly blaze at California venue Ghost Ship on 2 December.

According to the Denver Fire Department, an investigation – reportedly in response to complaints from residents – revealed a “hazardous environment including extension cords used for permanent wiring, wrapping paper on the walls and plastic on the ceiling” at Rhinoceropolis, widely recognised as the focal point of Denver’s underground music scene.

Additionally, the venue is, like Ghost Ship, “not zoned for residential use and therefore does not have the required smoke detection devises [sic] and fire suppression systems (ie sprinkler systems)”, says the fire brigade.

In addition to serving as a music and exhibition venue, Rhinoceropolis was used as a live/work space for artists. Its management says it anticipates being able to reopen as a venue.

“Shutting things down is not a solution”

In a statement released to Denver7, local cultural association RiNo Arts District says the venue’s closing is “likely a knee-jerk response to the tragedy at Ghost Ship” and that it is working towards “reopen[ing] Rhinoceropolis as a music venue as soon as possible”.

It continues: “With urgency, we will be continuing our conversation with the city about the importance of artist-run spaces and what we all can do to help ensure they continue to exist in a safe, but affordable, way, so that our artists can live and create in our urban core.

“Shutting things down is not a solution. Working together, creatively, to address safety issues while allowing creative uses is.”

 


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Oakland fire: Promoter could face murder charges

Nancy O’Malley, the district attorney of Almeda County in California, has suggested that anyone found to be responsible for the last weekend’s deadly Ghost Ship fire may be charged with murder.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, O’Malley said the “range of charges could be murder all the way to involuntary manslaughter” for a culpable party, with the possibility for “other charges if the evidence presents that”.

At least 36 people lost their lives in a blaze at a converted warehouse in Oakland, California, late on Friday night. The warehouse was home to an artists’ collective, known as Ghost Ship, and was on the evening of the fire hosting an unlicensed concert promoted by house label 100% Silk.

Much of the blame for the tragedy has so far fallen on Ghost Ship founder Derick Almena, who leases the warehouse from owner Chor Ng. In his only televised interview since the fire, Almena told the Today programme he is “incredibly sorry” for the loss of life, but added when he signed the lease he believed he was taking on “a building that was to city standards, supposedly”.

The Ghost Ship was described by fire officials as “maze-like and cluttered with objects, including wooden pallets”

According to Oakland city records seen by US Guardian correspondents Sam Levin and Alan Yuhas, police had previously investigated the warehouse – described by fire brigade officials as “maze-like and cluttered with objects, including wooden pallets” – but failed to take any concrete action.

The building, which lacked sprinklers and smoke detectors, was not permitted for residential use, and would have required a special event permit to legally host concerts.

Among the victims of the fire were three artists scheduled to perform: Cherushii (Chelsea Faith), Obsidian Blade (Joey Casio) and DJ Nackt (Johnny Igaz).

In a statement released shortly after the fire, 100% Silk described the blaze as “an unbelievable tragedy, a nightmare scenario”, and offered its “condolences to everyone involved and their families”.

“The range of charges could be murder all the way to involuntary manslaughter”

The fire was the worst structural disaster in northern California since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and echoes similar recent tragedies at The Station in Rhode Island, where pyrotechnics ignited inflammable insulation foam during a concert by Great White, and Colectiv in Bucharest, where band Goodbye to Gravity and hundreds of clubgoers were caught in an almost identical blaze.

The Ghost Ship blaze is believed to have been caused by an electrical fire, possibly sparked by a faulty refrigerator.

“The Alameda County district attorney’s office wishes to offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends whose loved ones perished in the fire,” says O’Malley, who will now work with local police to lead a criminal investigation into the tragedy. “Our hearts are broken for our community, for those who lost family and friends and for those who experienced this horror.”

 


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