Derick Ion Almena – who converted the commercial warehouse in Oakland, California into a DIY venue and living space without permits – will serve nine years in jail as part of his plea bargain, while Max Harris, the Ghost Ship’s “creative director” who collected rent and was the doorman on the night of the fire, will receive a six-year sentence, the East Bay Times reports.
Both Almena and Harris faced 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter – one for each person killed in the December 2016 fire – at a trial that was scheduled to begin July 16th. However, an email from prosecutors to victims’ families revealed that the two men would accept their plea bargains at the Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday.
Almena and Harris both faced up to 39 years in prison if found guilty at trial. As part of their plea bargain, Almena and Harris will serve their sentences at the nearby Alameda County Jail instead of a state prison.
Over 70 people were in attendance for a Golden Donna concert at the Ghost Ship on December 2nd, 2016; the 36 victims, whose ages ranged from 17 to 61, all died from smoke inhalation when a fire broke out in the venue and attendees were unable to find a way out of the labyrinth-like warehouse.
In June 2017, when the county pressed charges against the two men, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said in a press conference, “The defendants knowingly created a fire trap with inadequate means of escape. They are now facing the consequences of their actions. The paying guests at the event were faced with a nearly impossible labyrinth of the defendants’ making to get out of that building. Almena and Harris’ actions were reckless, and they created the high risk of death.”
In the aftermath of the fire, Almena apologized to the victims’ family but stopped short of accepting blame in a bizarre interview on Today. “I’m only here to say one thing: I’m incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together,” Almena said of the Ghost Ship, adding of whether he committed criminal negligence, “I’m not going to answer these questions on this level. I’d rather get on the floor and be trampled by the parents [of the victims]. I’d rather let them tear at my flesh than answer these ridiculous questions.”