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After criminal proceedings, lawsuits loom in deadly warehouse fire

OAKLAND, California. – Relatives of people who died in a 2016 California warehouse fire say others than the two men who agreed to plea deals are responsible for their losses.

They are suing the city of Oakland, the building owner, and the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., alleged problems in connection with inspections and maintenance.

Derick Almena and Max Harris each pleaded no contest Tuesday to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the December 2016 fire on the illegally converted Oakland warehouse called the Ghost Ship.

Prosecutors say Almena, rented the warehouse and illegally converted into a residence and entertainment venue. Almena hired Harris to help collect rent, and schedule concerts.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigators said they were unable to determine the cause of the fire.

In court Tuesday, the judge read the name of the victim for an emotional and seat, allowing the tears of loved ones in the Oakland the courtroom.

Prosecutors say the two suspects turned out to the warehouse in a “drop dead” by cluttering with highly flammable knick-knacks, and the block of the number of turns in the dimly-lit building.

Under the terms of a plea agreement, Almena can be sentenced to nine years in prison, Harris could face a six-year term as a judge sentences them next month.

The men can have life in prison if convicted in a trial. Now, with good behavior, they are only to serve half of their sentences after a stay of a year in prison.

David Gregory, whose 20-year-old daughter, Michela Gregory, was one of the victims, said that hearing the defendants say that there is no competition, “some small sense of justice”, but he was dissatisfied with the outcome.

“That is 36 lives, you know,” he said outside the court. “We wanted a fair justice, and we don’t get.”

Parents and lawyers allege in the lawsuits that the Oakland Fire department failed to check the warehouse every year is necessary. The lawsuit says inspectors would have discovered the illegal conversions.

Alex Katz, a spokesman for the Oakland city attorney, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

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

The lawsuits claim PG&E does not properly check, inspect and repair of electrical equipment which the power to the warehouse.

PG&E said in a statement that he has cooperated with the investigation and that a review of the registration, found no electrical problems in the warehouse during the 10 years before the fire.

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