An aerial view of the Ghost Ship after the fire. Photo: KGO-TV / AP

Ghost Ship Managers Charged With Thirty-Six Counts of Involuntary Manslaughter

Max Harris and Derick Almena, the managers of the Oakland, California–based Ghost Ship, an artists’ venue and live/work space that caught fire on December 3, 2016—killing thirty-six people—now face just as many counts of involuntary manslaughter, report Helen Stoilas and Gabriella Angeleti of the Art Newspaper. If they are convicted of felony charges, Harris and Almena face up to thirty-nine years in prison.

Authorities have not been able to determine the exact cause of the fire, but Almena, the Ghost Ship’s primary leaseholder, kept vast amounts of flammable materials on the premises, and encouraged many of the building’s residents to use the items he scavenged to build out their domiciles. Harris, who had rented out a second-floor space for an EDM party, blocked off a second exit to the area, greatly diminishing the means to escape during an emergency. Prosecutors said that “their actions amounted to a disregard for human life.” The Ghost Ship’s landlord, Chor Ng, said she had no idea people were actually living in the building. She thought it was only being leased as a studio for an art group.

Almena’s lawyers say the fire might have started in another building, and that the officials looking into the disaster have a conflict of interest as they are the defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the families of the victims. In a statement, Almena’s attorneys said, “We believe that these charges represent no less than a miscarriage of justice, and we are confident that this attempt to make a scapegoat out of our client will fail.” It is not yet known whether or not Harris has legal assistance.