Derick Almena, the landlord who managed the Oakland warehouse that was the site of a deadly fire last Friday, appeared on Today Tuesday to discuss the building's safety and defend the importance of places like the warehouse, which doubled as an artistic haven. "I'm only here to say one thing: that 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 asserted. Distraught from the start, he eventually cut the interview short.
"I'm not going to answer these questions on this level," he told the Today hosts, who inquired about possible criminal negligence resulting from the warehouse's substandard conditions. "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." He then reiterated his apology: "I'm so sorry. I'm incredibly sorry."
Before ending the interview, Almena defended the warehouse as an important space for the underprivileged and artistic communities. "It started off as a dream that we would have a facility, a venue that would host everything from at-risk youth to the gay community to artists that couldn't perform anywhere to performance art and alternative arts," he said.
Later he added, "People didn't walk through those doors because it was a horrible place. People didn't seek us out to perform and express themselves because it was a horrible place."
Today hosts Matt Lauer and Tamron Hall pressed Almena for information about the building's safety before the deadly blaze, presenting him with testimony from a warehouse resident who said she slept with a fire extinguisher. "I signed a lease and I got a building that was to city standards supposedly," he said. (Almena does not own the building.)
He then pivoted away from questions of responsibility. "I don't want to talk about me," Almena said. "I don't want to talk about profiting … This is not profit. This is a mass grave."
Thirty-six people have been confirmed dead since the fire broke out before midnight during a show at the warehouse last Friday. The cause of the blaze has not yet been determined, though the Oakland Planning and Building Department said that Almena did not request any permits for the party that would have allowed city employees to inspect the venue for safety lapses.