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Two plead no contest in Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire

By Allen Cone
Two plead no contest in Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire
The collapsed roof is visible through a window at the scene of a fire during a dance concert in a warehouse known as The Ghost Ship in Oakland, Calif., on December 4, 2016 -- two days after the fire. Two men pleaded no contest Tuesday in the fire that killed 36 people. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

July 4 (UPI) -- Two men pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif., that killed 36 people in 2016.

Derick Almena and Max Harris, the two founders of the facility, were arrested in June 2017 for allegedly allowing dangerous conditions in the building that led to the fire on Dec. 2, 2016. Most victims were attending a concert inside the warehouse on the second floor and couldn't evacuate the building via a makeshift staircase, which prosecutors called an "inadequate means of escape."

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Almena, the Ghost Shiper master tenant, agreed to a nine-year prison sentence Tuesday. Max Harris, the artist collective's executive director, will receive a six-year sentence. They will be credited with time served and possibly good behavior.

Teresa Drenick, an assistant district attorney for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, said the two men were expected to be sentenced on Aug. 9. If they hadn't taken a plea, thy could have been sentenced to more than 35 years in prison, Drenick said.

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"They acted with reckless conduct, and that caused the death of 36 men and women," she said after the hearing. "With today's pleas, not only do both they take responsibility, but they are now also found guilty of all 36 counts."

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Almena managed the residents, mostly artists seeking an affordable space in an area with high rent. Harris rented out the warehouse for the party and prepared the area for the event, court documents said.

Harris had "blocked off an area of the second floor that included a second stairwell, which effectively reduced the upstairs guests to a single point of escape," the documents said.

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Almena collected "fence boards, shingles, window frames, wooden sculptures, tapestries, pianos, organs" and other "ramshackle pieces" that spread the fire, according to court documents.

Tony Serra, Almena's lawyer, said his client entered his plea as "a moral imperative to eliminate all of the drama and pain and suffering," according to The East Bay Times.

Harris' lawyer, Curtis Briggs, said: "The city of Oakland botched the entire situation."

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Harris plans to assist families who are suing the city and other defendants in a civil case for its lack of inspections and bureaucratic ineptitude, his attorneys said.

About a dozen family members of the victims appeared the the hearing.

When asked if he thought justice was served, David Gregory, father of Michela, responded: "No, it's not enough." His wife added, "Not at all."

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