Anger, tears as families speak at warehouse fire sentencingAugust 9, 2018 11:35pm

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Palpable anger, deep sadness and tense moments swept a California courtroom Thursday as relatives of three dozen partygoers who died in a 2016 Oakland warehouse fire testified about their losses and slammed a plea deal for two men charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The hearing will last through Friday, when Judge James Cramer formally sentenced the pair who each pleaded no contest to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter for the Dec. 2, 2016, fire at the warehouse known as the Ghost Ship.

In exchange for their pleas, Derick Almena, who rented the warehouse and is accused of illegally converting it into housing and entertainment space, agreed to a nine-year prison sentence, and Max Harris, who collected rent and scheduled concerts, agreed to a six-year term.

Several of the relatives who testified Thursday said they were upset with the plea deals.

"The city of Oakland should be held accountable" for failing to inspect and shut down the warehouse, Colleen Dolan said. She showed a photo of her smiling 33-year-old daughter, Chelsea Dolan, taken a few weeks before her death.

But when Dolan tried to display a coroner's photo of her daughter's charred body, Cramer gently interrupted her and said he had previously seen it.

"I had to kiss that burned body goodbye," said Dolan, agreeing to comply. "I am angry and bereft."

Moments later, Cramer politely interrupted Paul Matiasic, an attorney reading a statement by Sami Long Koppelman, whose 34-year-old son, Edmond William Lapine, was killed.

Mataiasic asked the judge rhetorically if he had lost a child.

"Yes, I have," Cramer said with a sad smile. "Just so you know."

Many relatives who spent the day crying and dabbing their eyes audibly gasped. The judge did not elaborate.

Cyrus Hoda, the brother of fire victim Sarah Hoda, 30, said the plea bargain smacked of a "sweetheart deal" and labeled Almena and Harris as "culture vultures" trying to become San Francisco Bay Area arts players by luring people to a dangerous place to live and party.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said the two men had turned the warehouse into a "death trap" by cluttering it with highly flammable knick-knacks, blocking the building's few exits and failing to make adequate safety precautions before inviting the public inside.

Almena's wife and three children also lived in the warehouse but were staying in a nearby hotel the night of the fire. His wife, Micah Allison, and one of their daughters sat quietly in court alongside the grieving families.

Chris Allen, brother of 34-year-old victim Amanda Allen Keyshaw, and his parents traveled to the hearing from the Boston area. As his mother sobbed outside court, Allen said the family did not feel "justice has been fully served."

Dressed in jail garb, Almena, 48, looked unemotionally at the relatives as they testified, while Harris, 28, stared at the judge, who approved the plea deal last month.

Cramer told relatives of victims to try to keep their emotions in check during the testimony, which he said would be "a heart-wrenching hearing as befits the enormous loss in this case."

Almena and Harris could have faced life in prison if convicted at a trial. Now, they could serve only half their sentences after spending a year behind bars if they behave.

Investigators from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they were unable to determine a cause of the blaze.

Victims' relatives allege in lawsuits that the Oakland Fire Department failed to inspect the warehouse annually as required and that inspectors would have discovered the illegal conversions.

Alex Katz, a spokesman for the city attorney, declined to comment.

The lawsuits also claim Pacific Gas & Electric Co. failed to properly monitor, inspect and repair electrical equipment that provided power to the warehouse.

PG&E said in a statement that it cooperated with the investigation and that a review of its records found no electrical problems at the building in the 10 years before the fire.

Warehouse owner Chor Ng, who has never been charged, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

___

This story has been corrected to show that Judge Cramer's last name was misspelled.

Page 1 of 1

More Stories Like This

FILE - In this June 25, 2018, file photo, Jordanian immigrant Ali Mahwood-Awad Irsan sits in court in Houston. Jurors on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, sentenced Irsan to death for the 2012 fatal shootings of his son-in-law and daughter's best friend in what prosecutors described as "honor killings." (Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle via AP, File)
Jordanian immigrant gets death for Houston 'honor killings'
Filing: Waffle House shooting suspect found unfit for trialProsecutors want court hearing after the suspect in a deadly shooting at a Tennessee Waffle House was deemed currently incompetent for trial
Man pleads guilty in buggy crash that killed 3 childrenA 29-year-old central Michigan man has pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the deaths of three children following a collision between their horse-drawn buggy and a pickup truck
FILE - This January 2016 file photo provided by Blacksburg Police Department shows Virginia Tech student Natalie Keepers, who was arrested in connection with the death of Nicole Lovell. Keepers pleaded guilty Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, to concealing the body of 13-year-old Lovell, but still faces trial on a more serious charge of being an accessory to the teen's killing. (Blacksburg Police Department via AP, File)
Ex-Virginia Tech student pleads guilty to hiding teen's body
FILE - In this July 19, 2018 file frame from surveillance video released by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Markeis McGlockton, far left, is shot by Michael Drejka during an altercation in the parking lot of a convenience store in Clearwater, Fla.  Prosecutors charged a white man, Michael Drejka, with manslaughter Monday Aug. 13, 2018  in the death of an unarmed black man whose videotaped shooting in a store parking lot has revived debate over Florida’s “stand your ground” law. (Pinellas County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
Bail, conditions set for man charged in fatal shooting
Ohio high court upholds trafficked girl's murder convictionOhio Supreme Court upholds murder conviction of woman whose forced prostitution as a girl was cited as a factor leading to her involvement in a fatal robbery
AdChoices

Related Searches

Related Searches

AdChoices