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2 Arrests Made in Connection With Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire

Derick Almena, leaseholder of the Ghost Ship warehouse, and Max Harris, a tenant in the building, have been arrested for involuntary manslaughter. They each face 36 counts in the December inferno at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, according to Nancy O’Malley, Alameda County’s District Attorney.

The fire started during an electronic concert and dance party, killing dozens of people who were unable to escape the two-story blaze as the dilapidated warehouse burned. One of the two exits to escape the fire was blocked, said authorities.

On Monday, O’Malley reported that these two individuals “knowingly created a dangerous fire trap with very few escape routes. They then packed that area with partygoers and are now faced with the gravity of what they caused.”

If convicted of all 36 counts, Almena and Harris would each be facing up to 39 years in state prison. Both men were arrested early Monday.

Teresa Drenick, Assistant District Attorney, did not offer any information on Harris, but according to probable cause document, he lived at the Ghost Ship and was the creative director who collected rent and the acting intermediary between the warehouse owners and Almena.

Just after the fire, Almena apologized to the families of the victims while strenuously defending himself, claiming he never would have intentionally put his tenants in any danger.

“I’m here to say just one thing: I am profoundly sorry,” he said on NBC’s “Today” show.

On Monday, Almena’s lawyers said: “We will vigorously defend our client in court. These charges represent a serious miscarriage of justice. We have every confidence that this attempt to scapegoat our client will ultimately fail.”

CNN was unable to reach a lawyer for Harris.

O’Malley claims that these men were reckless in setting up a death trap. She said they housed up to 25 tenants in the warehouse and deceived the building owners and officials about this. Almena and Harris permitted large amounts of flammable materials to be stored floor-to-ceiling in the building, she said.

“We continue to grieve the loss of these 36 vibrant young women and men who should be here with us now,” she said.

People filed complaints weeks before the fire

Darin Ranelletti, Interim Director of Planning & Building for city of Oakland, told CNN in 2016 that the Ghost Ship had not had an inspection in the last 30 years.

“That means no one applied for a permit for any work on the building in the last 3 decades. We have no violations on record for work on the interior of the main building submitted for that street address,” he went on to say.

Three weeks prior to the fire, the latest complaints were filed with the city.

“Inspectors went out to the address in November to follow-up on a complaint about an illegal structure and blight on an adjacent lot,” Ranelletti said. “That lot does not have the same address as the Ghost Ship.”

The warehouse, along with the lot next door, had become a dumping ground for oil containers, old cars, trash and pests, according to various complaints.

According to records, a lot of the complaints were about the lot, mentioning a “ton of trash piling up” as well as “an unlawful interior structure” at the Ghost Ship next door.

According to the probable cause document, “Almena allowed tenants to utilize unconventional building materials, things he collected, in creating their individual living spaces. These materials were often recycled dried out wood items like fence boards, window frames, shingles, wooden sculptures and furniture, organs, pianos, tapestries, rugs, RV trailers and other discarded items.”

Authorities said the precise cause of the fire might remain undetermined due to the severity of damage done to the contents of the building.

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Lawsuits maintain dangers were long known

After the fire, the families of Michela Gregory and Griffin Madden, who perished in the blaze, filed lawsuits, naming the owner of the building and certain employees of various county and city departments as defendants. The lawsuits claim these people knew that the Ghost Ship posed serious dangers long before it went up in flames.

Among those who knew or should have known about the hazards are members of Oakland’s Fire Department. They actually “held and attended a musical event” at the warehouse before the fatal fire, according to the lawsuits. The lawsuits also say that the closest fire station is just a block away.

Aside from legal claims against Alameda County and the city of Oakland, the Gregorys and Maddens target the owner of the building, Chor Nar Siu Ng, along with landlords Almena and Micah Allison.

Other defendants named in the lawsuits are a California music label, a promoter, a musician from Madison, Wisconsin along with two landlords of properties nearby who “provided services and utilities to the Ghost Ship, which included electricity and a restroom that invitees and patrons could use on their premises during musical and other entertainment events.”

Drenick was mum as to whether there would be any more criminal charges filed. “At this point, the 36 involuntary manslaughter charges filed are the 36 we stand by.” She went on to say that the investigation by their office has been completed.

wrongful death is a death caused by a negligent, careless, intentional or reckless act of another person or corporation. All states guarantee the right to compensation for families and children of those who are killed in a wrongful death. if you have lost a loved one in an accident caused by another, you may be eligible to seek a remedy and payment. Protect your rights, contact an experienced Wrongful Death Attorney. When you call the law offices of O’Connor, Runckel & O’Malley, you will be talking with an attorney who has spoken with hundreds of people in your similar circumstance. You will be treated with the respect and sympathy you need during your time of heartbreak and anguish.

(Source: KTLA)

Published on behalf of O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley LLP



Two Teenagers Killed in Alameda Crash Involving Truck & Minivan

ALAMEDA, CA – Two people were killed and six others injured when a truck and minivan collided Monday morning in downtown Alameda, according to authorities.

Alameda police and the County Coroner’s Bureau both confirmed that two deaths occurred as a result of Monday’s accident.

Tuesday the coroner’s office said the fatalities were Simon Sotelo, who most recently lived in Union City and Briana Ortega who was from Hayward, both 17 years old. 

The other passengers in the pickup with Sotelo and Ortega are all in their teens to early 20s and were still in the hospital as of Tuesday morning, according to police.

The collision took place at Lincoln Avenue and Park Street and police said on Facebook that speeding might have been a contributing factor in the accident reported around 8:00 a.m.

The truck had seven occupants, of which two were killed and five others seriously injured, according to the Facebook post. Law enforcement has not disclosed where Sotelo and Ortega were sitting in the truck.

Ortega died at the scene, while Sotelo later succumbed to his injuries at Oakland’s Highland Hospital, according to the post.

Carol Ziogas lives in the neighborhood where the crash occurred and she, her daughter and son-in-law immediately rushed over after hearing the vehicles collide. They observed first responders putting a tarp over the female passenger, while a male passenger was having a neck brace put on.

Trucking Accident
Trucking Accident

Ziogas said, “There were shoes scattered all over the street, along with papers and other kinds of debris,” adding, “The Jaws of Life had to be used to remove the roof in order to get the last passenger out.” She went on to say, “He was in a daze just sitting there.”

The truck’s five other occupants were all transported to local hospitals in critical condition.

The truck ended up in Alameda Bicycle’s parking lot on Webb Avenue and Park after the collision.

Ole’s Waffle Shop is nearby and that’s where Matt Clay was dining when he heard the crash.

“All I could see was someone on the ground,” he said. “It was a horrific crash.”

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According to the Facebook post, the female who occupied the minivan was transported to an area hospital. Her injuries were not considered life threatening.

Ziogas explained that this was not the only fatal crash occurring within one block of their home. She said that the locals in town are understandably worried about drivers’ exceeding the speed limit, which happens all the time on Park Street.

According to the Traffic Incident Mapping System run by UC Berkeley, May 24, 2015 was when the last fatal accident happened at this intersection. That’s when a vehicle hit a pedestrian walking across the street inside the crosswalk. The system indicates that four fatal collisions have occurred in Alameda, just in the last four years.

Area streets were closed to traffic for several hours on Monday. At 6:30 p.m. they reopened Park Street.

(Source: East Bay Times)

Published on behalf of O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley LLP

Oakland Officials Knew About Conditions at Ghost Ship Prior to Fire that Killed 36

Oakland City officials had many reasons to visit the Ghost Ship in the years prior to the fire that took the lives of 36 people inside the building. They were there to investigate 10 complaints of code violations, among others, according to detailed records released by the City on Wednesday.

Despite growing evidence that someone had converted the warehouse into an unlawful residence and entertainment venue, the City chose to turn a blind eye and never took any action to shutter the Ghost Ship, records reveal. A number of complaints had been submitted to the City claiming that the conditions inside the building were not safe. People had reported mounds of trash piling up and faulty wiring.

Media outlets, including The Times, requested the release of these records amid mounting criticism of Oakland’s apparent lax enforcement of codes at the Ghost Ship as well as other warehouses that have been converted into illegal residences across the city.

On December 2, 2016 the Ghost Ship was hosting a concert when the warehouse caught fire, trapping everyone in attendance and scores of other people. 

In looking at the records, the fact that illegal concerts were being held there should not have come as any surprise to City officials.

Oakland police responded to a call in March 2015 that an illegal rave was going on at the Ghost Ship where drugs and alcohol were being sold. The report reveals that the police officer who responded claimed he did not issue any citations or even enter the building. Later on that same night police were called back to the scene after getting a complaint that “several people inside his warehouse were refusing to leave the premises.”

Police just stood by waiting while everyone who was not supposed to be there left, according to the heavily redacted report.

The records reveal the content of a 911 call describing the same 2015 event, which was taken by the California Highway Patrol. The caller related “as many as 15 people were barricaded inside the building,” adding “the owners are preventing people from leaving.” The caller went on to say that they heard what seemed like a Taser being used and people being threatened.

Family members of some of the victims as well as certain Oakland officials said that the records offer clear evidence that the city failed in its oversight duties.

South San Francisco resident, David Gregory, whose daughter Michela was killed in the fire said, “I’m outraged, absolutely outraged that the city did nothing all these years, which made this tragedy inevitable. They allowed it to occur. Just put yourself in my place. What if your 20-year-old son or daughter, or your niece or another loved one was there? The more you find out about what happened, the more you’re convinced that this should never have been allowed to happen.”

Noel Gallo, Oakland City Councilman whose district includes the section where the Ghost Ship was located, admitted that the documents point out where City Hall failed to respond properly to many longstanding complaints in the neighborhood about the warehouse.

“The merchants and neighbors who have been residing in the area are certainly aware of all the issues, but the City would not accept responsibility, they did not want the liability,” Gallo said on Wednesday, “What was known about the warehouse went far beyond just one city department. There weren’t just one or two times that people called in to complain.”

The City had been investigating a report of illegal housing there only two weeks before the tragedy. A code inspector was dispatched to the scene, but he said he couldn’t get into the property or even “see whether there was an illegal building from outside on the sidewalk.”

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City files show that the owner of the building, Chor N. Ng, was cited for the condition of the front yard and sidewalk.

Apparently City inspectors did not bother to assess the conditions inside the building until after the fire, according to records. Several weeks after the bodies had been removed from the warehouses’ burned husk by coroner’s officials, code enforcement inspectors went back and issued several new citations against building owner Ng.  

On December 22nd Ng was told she needed to remove the debris and repair the walls, ceiling and roof. For the very first time, she was cited for “unapproved alterations” she had made throughout the building.

“There are bedrooms created throughout the second floor and also a kitchen,” the code inspector wrote. “There are makeshift paint booths being used as toilet stalls, new partitions built for walls etc.,” he wrote.

He also reported “unsafe and exposed” wiring, electrical panels, and fixtures for which he faulted the building, according to records.

Although all the records were requested by the Media, Oakland officials only released some, saying that the others were being withheld due to the pending criminal investigation of the fire, which was among the worst in California’s modern history. The December 2nd fire happened during an unlawful concert. Many of the records that were release are heavily redacted.

The Ghost Ship and the vacant lot next door have been subjected to 10 code enforcement complaints plus 39 code enforcement inspections going back to 2004, according to City records. Inspectors from the fire department had also paid visits to the building 16 times going back to 1999, with the most recent visits in 2016.

Although City code inspectors never ventured into the warehouse, they did speak to the “tenant” once in 2014 when they went out in an attempt to get Ng and her daughter to have discarded pallets, furniture and debris removed from the sidewalk out front, as it was piling up and blocking pedestrians.

In February 2015, the City did receive an explicit complaint saying that the building had been turned into an illegal residence, according to police records. There is a transcript of a 911 call reporting a man with a shotgun was hiding somewhere near the warehouse. The caller went on to describe the Ghost Ship as “a warehouse that has been turned into an illegal shared housing facility.”

Former tenant, Shelly Mack who had a dispute with the landlord, Derick Ion Almena, claims she was the one who made that 911 call. Mack claimed in an interview that a police officer went inside the building at that time and saw the deplorable conditions in the warehouse, although that is not confirmed in the reports that were released on Wednesday.

“He came right inside and he looked around and saw everything,” she said. “The officer that came and escorted me and my son when we moved out of the warehouse a week or so later came inside too. He saw and was told everything. Whenever authorities were called to the building, they usually came inside.”

Mack openly criticized the Oakland police for not doing more.

“The police are on the front lines everyday,” she said. “Why would they not connect all these dots? There were millions of dots.”

Mayor Libby Schaaf, in releasing the reports, said that she hoped the information would help answer all the questions residents have asked about the City’s oversight and actions.

“I realize that the Media and many others have felt frustrated by how long it has taken to gather these documents from all the different departments. We wanted to cast a wide net so that all relevant information was seen. We must take a thorough look at not only the warehouse, but the adjacent properties as well,” she stated. “Transparency is a must. Our community has been severely impacted by this incident and deserves to know everything there is to know about this tragic event.”

If you have lost a loved one in an accident caused by another, you may be eligible to seek a remedy and payment. Protect your rights, contact an experienced wrongful death lawyer. The wrongful death attorneys at O’Connor, Runckel & O’Malley are well known and respected throughout the legal community and among our clients.

(Source: LA Times )

Published on behalf of O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley LLP

Man Injured in Multiple-Vehicle Crash in El Cerrito

EL CERRITO, CA — A section of San Pablo Avenue was closed temporarily on Sunday evening as a result of a multi-vehicle accident that resulted in severe injuries to a passenger.

Police officers closed down a section of San Pablo Avenue between Waldo and Burlingame Avenues when responding to reports of a vehicle hitting a pedestrian. When law enforcement arrived on the scene, they found the man lying in the middle of the street going southbound on San Pablo Avenue, with three vehicles on the northbound side of the street.

Auto Accident Lawyer
Auto Accident

Officers eventually determined that the man lying there had been ejected from one of those three vehicles. He was taken by emergency helicopter to a nearby trauma center and was said to be in critical condition with multiple broken bones. Sgt. Jose Delatorre with the El Cerrito Police Department reported that he is expected to pull through.

After talking to the driver whose vehicle the man was ejected from, police suspected he had been drinking. They did a DUI investigation, which resulted in the arrest of the 20-year-old San Pablo man.

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According to someone who witnessed the accident, the young man who’d been ejected was sitting on the roof of the car with his legs “dangling down through the moon roof” while the driver was wildly swerving the car from one side to the other and back, causing the passenger to suddenly fly off the roof, landing in a crumpled heap on the street. At that point, the car quickly spun around, crashing into another vehicle, which was a minivan according to the El Cerrito Fire Department.

“Seeing this was horrible,” said Scott Hacker, a witness from El Cerrito.

The minivan that was crashed into then slammed into another minivan on the road.

Police plan on forwarding the DUI case to the Contra Costa County D.A. once they complete their investigation.

If you or a family member has been injured in a motor vehicle accident in El Cerrito, CA due to negligence and need to speak to an experienced El Cerrito auto accident lawyer, please contact us. We will answer your questions; discuss your situation and how we can be of help in protecting your legal rights.

The auto accident lawyers at O’Connor, Runckel & O’Malley have many years of experience successfully representing clients who have been the victims of auto accidents. We are very well respected in the Northern California legal circles and have offices in San Francisco, Sacramento and Contra Costa County. Our expertise in this area of the law can be put to work on your case. Please give us a call today.

Passenger Killed in Richmond I-80 Crash, DUI Suspect Arrested

RICHMOND, CA – A female passenger in a vehicle that crashed while exiting the I-80 off-ramp passed away Sunday morning as a result of her injuries. The driver was arrested and is being held on suspicion of driving while under the influence, according to a spokesperson for the California Highway Patrol. CHP Officers arrived on the scene of the accident at 11:30 p.m., which was in close proximity to the Cutting Blvd. off-ramp from Highway 80 westbound. Officers responding came upon an overturned 2003 Lexus sedan.

fatal dui crash 1-80 cutting blvd
1-80 at Cutting Blvd in Richmond

The passenger, whose name is not being released at this time, was fully ejected from the vehicle, according to Officer Sean Wilkenfield of the CHP. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital, where she ultimately died as a result of her injuries.

Accident investigators concluded that she had not been wearing a seatbelt when the crash occurred, Wilkenfeld said.

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Twenty-one year old Lexus Taylor, the driver, was also taken to the hospital after suffering major injuries in the accident, where officers determined that she was drunk. Taylor was put under arrest, but remains hospitalized in stable condition.

Vehicular manslaughter occurs when an individual recklessly causes the death of another person through the use of any type of motor vehicle. If you or a family member has been victimized by motor vehicle negligence and need to consult with an auto accident attorney located in the Bay Area, please reach out to us. We are available to answer any questions you have, advise you of your legal rights and how best to protect them. We at O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley have more than 50 years of experience handling the litigation and going to trial representing victims of auto accidents. We have the right expertise along with a proven track record of prevailing in auto accident and wrongful death cases.

(Source: KRON 4 News )

Published on behalf of O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley LLP