OAKLAND, California. – Two California men to go to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of the 36 revelers in the worst building fire in the U.S. in more than a decade, a judge ruled Thursday.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner said prosecutors presented enough evidence to go forward with their criminal case against Derick Almena and Max Harris. He said that witnesses during the hearing, described the building as a death trap.
“Whose responsibility is that? I think there is very strong evidence to support the conclusion that it is the responsibility of these two suspects,” he said.
Almena rented from the Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship that burned on Dec. 2, 2016, during an electronic music concert. Harris also lived in the building, and a witness stated that Harris was the leadership of the unauthorized concert.
The warehouse illegally converted into living quarters for artists, was messy and had no sprinkler system. Prosecutors say that the people are made aware of a firetrap and deceived the building owner, the police and fire department officials about the people who live there. The two have pleaded not guilty and say they are being scapegoated.
Oakland was criticized after the fire for a series of failures that the warehouse function be illegal despite the many complaints of officials of the city.
The judge ruled after several days of testimony provided a glimpse of the prosecutors’ case against Almena and Harris.
Aaron Marin, a musician who lived in the warehouse, calling it a “museum” filled with musical instruments, trailers and other items. But he testified that he did not consider as a danger for fire while he was there.
Marin was able to escape the flames the night of the fire by jumping from a top window. He said the window was blocked by a gigantic projection screen, which makes it not visible for most people.
A second witness, Jose Avalos, testified that he was under 15 to 25 people who lived in the warehouse at any given time, and that he paid his rent of $565 per month Harris.
But he disputed that Harris was second-in-command in the warehouse and said everyone pitched in to maintain the community.
Avalos also said that the police were called to the building a number of times to help with expansion of the fire, and was even known to the tenant with the name.