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A key figure charged in the fatal warehouse fire nears plea deal

SAN FRANCISCO – A plea deal is close at hand for the central figure charged in connection with a Northern California warehouse fire that killed three dozen party-goers on an unlicensed concert in 2016, his lawyer said Friday.

Derick Almena, and the officer of justice has provisionally agreed to an eight-year prison sentence to resolve the 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter, attorney Tony Serra said. He warned that the talks could still break during a meeting Friday to finalize the deal with a judge.

“We are 85 percent there,” Serra said.

Almena, 48, rented from the Oakland warehouse called the “Ghost Ship” and illegally converted into a residence and entertainment venue. Prosecutors charged Almena with the turning of the cluttered building into a “death trap” with little in the turns, rickety staircases and dark and dangerous passages.

Almena, his wife and three children lived in the warehouse, but stay in an Oakland hotel the night of the fire, which broke out during an electronic music performance in December 2016.

In an interview with the San Francisco Bay Area news station KTVU-TV, Almena, says he is “not a bullet in everyone”, but is ready to take responsibility for the fire, which was the nation’s deadliest structure fire since flames swept a Rhode Island nightclub in 2003 killed 100 people.

If an agreement is reached, Almena is expected to be released from prison in three years time off for good behavior. Serra said, there is a possibility his client could be freed in two years.

Almena is in the prison since June 2017 and will be credited for the time served.

California inmates typically serve half of their sentence if they have a good disciplinary record in prison. Serra said Almena also eligible for a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, sentence reduction, due to involuntary manslaughter charges are classified as non-violent.

Alameda County prosecutor Teresa Drenick declined to comment.

Almena was scheduled to begin trial next month along with Max Harris, who has helped in the management of the warehouse and is also charged with 36 counts of manslaughter.

Serra said a plea deal saves the family of the victims and of witnesses in a process where the photos of burned bodies and other emotionally-laden evidence would be shown.

Serra said Harris and his lawyers were negotiating a plea deal. Harris’ lawyer, Curtis Briggs, do not return calls and sms messages Friday.

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