June 6 (UPI) -- Alameda County, Calif., District Attorney Nancy E. O'Malley said she has charged two people with involuntary manslaughter in connection to last year's Oakland warehouse fire in which 36 died.
O'Malley said the felony charges are against property manager Derick Ion Almena, 47, who converted the warehouse into an artist residence and underground concert venue called the Ghost Ship, and Max Harris, who worked as the Ghost Ship's "creative director" and organized the concert that occurred the night of the fire on Dec. 2.
A probable cause statement filed Monday said Almena and Harris face 36 counts of felony involuntary manslaughter for allowing up to 25 people to illegally reside in the warehouse, for failing to provide fire suppression equipment and for filling the building with flammable materials, which created a deadly "labyrinth."
Almena and Harris "knowingly created a fire trap, with inadequate means of escape. They then filled that area with human beings," O'Malley said.
Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick said the cause of the fire will likely remain undetermined because the flames destroyed most of the evidence needed. She also did not say whether others would be charged, including building owner Chor N. Ng.
Following the fire, Jill Snyder, the head of San Francisco's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office, in December said that although a final determination had not been reached -- and to this day has not -- a refrigerator was a potential source of the blaze. Snyder said authorities saw "no indication" the fire was set intentionally.
People who lived at the warehouse described electrical hookups as dangerous. Fire officials said the manner in which the warehouse was being used made the building ideal for ignition.
Hundreds of people held a mass candlelight vigil days after the fire, which turned to an outcry against Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Schaaf on Monday said the charges against Almena and Harris "send a clear message: You won't get away with making a profit by cramming people into dangerous spaces or failing to maintain safe living conditions.
"The reckless and deceptive actions of Derick Almena and Max Harris claimed 36 innocent lives," Schaaf said in a statement. "For years, they worked hard to escape legal scrutiny and deceive City officials. Because of their callous disregard for human life, they deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
Almena's attorneys said they "intend to vigorously defend him in the court of law."
"We believe that these charges represent no less than a miscarriage of justice, and we are confident that this attempt to make a scapegoat out of our client will fail," the attorneys said in a statement.