OAKLAND (CBS SF & AP) – Just days after a somber one-year anniversary, a preliminary hearing is set to begin this week for two men charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in Oakland’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire.
Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena, 47, and creative director Max Harris, 27, have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Both lived in the building and booked musical acts and sublet the space to artists looking for affordable housing.
Prosecutors say the men knowingly created a firetrap and deceived the building’s owner, police and fire officials about the fact that people were living there. The two claim they are being scapegoated.
The hearing is expected to take a week and survivors, Ghost Ship tenants and investigators are among those who will testify. Family members of the victims will also attend as they have every court hearing since the fire.
For David Gregory every day since the fire has been a recurring nightmare that still wakes him up in tears.
Gregory’s 20-year-old daughter, Michela, was among those who died in the Dec. 2, 2016, blaze at an Oakland warehouse, and in the dream Gregory can hear her calling his name and screaming for help.
“And there’s nothing I can do,” he said during a recent telephone interview, his voice quivering with emotion. “I always wake up crying, and it happens a lot.”
The one-year anniversary of the fire brought back painful memories for Gregory and other victims’ families.
“You never recover from it,” said Mary Alexander, an attorney who is representing Gregory and other victims’ families in a lawsuit that names the city, the warehouse’s owner and its operator. “All of them are anxious about the one-year. It’s creating a lot of emotions.”
Since the Ghost Ship fire, Oakland officials have investigated 32 warehouses or commercial spaces that were suspected of serving illegally as housing, work or gathering spots and scores of other properties with multiple hazards identified by firefighters, according to its November report.
The Ghost Ship fire highlighted the precarious living situations of artists seeking affordable housing amid skyrocketing rents in the Bay Area.
In its wake, Los Angeles, Baltimore and other cities cracked down on commercial spaces that were used illegally as housing or performance venues.