Two People, Including Ghost Ship Operator Derick Almena, Arrested in Connection With Warehouse Fire That Killed 36

Two people were arrested Monday morning on charges connected to the deadly Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire that killed 36 people in December, according to Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley.

Derick Almena, the warehouse's operator, and Max Harris, a warehouse tenant, were taken into custody. Almena was arrested in Lake County, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who assisted with the arrest. 

O'Malley said both Almena and Harris are charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the deadly blaze.

Almena was taken to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin late Monday and was to be processed sometime after midnight, sheriff's officials said. He is scheduled to be in court Thursday, with bail set at $1 million. Sheriff’s deputies will travel to Southern California to pick up Harris this week.

One victim's mother reacted to the arrests Monday.

"That place was set up like a death trap," said Susan Slocum, whose daughter Donna Kellogg one of the first to be identified in the tragic fire. "Our daughters and sons didn’t have much of a chance."

Slocum said the arrest of two men facing involuntary manslaughter charges couldn’t come soon enough.

"You feel like you’re in a state of limbo, waiting to hear something," she said. "It feels better knowing there’s movement going on."

O’Malley explained the two men's arrests and charges during a news conference Monday.

"They knowingly created a fire trap, with inadequate escapes, and are now suffering the consequences of their actions," she said.

A massive fire ripped through the converted Ghost Ship warehouse building during a dance party on Dec. 2, engulfing the ground floor and sending smoke up twp staircases, trapping party-goers. Th structure was zoned as a warehouse but illegally converted into a living space.

Almena told NBC's "Today" show back in December that he was "incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together."

Almena, 46, who friends knew as Derick Ion, was convicted in January of receiving stolen property, specifically an Airstream trailer from his landlord in January 2015, court records show. He spent two days in jail then, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, and had been on probation until 2019.

Almena survived the fire and posted to Facebook after hearing that the converted warehouse he managed was the site of a deadly fire. The post, which has since been deleted, got a lot of attention because of its insensitivity to what was already known to be a fatal scene.

The post read as follows: "Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound ... it's as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope ... to be standing now in poverty of self worth."

The post prompted more than 2,000 comments, and many of them were critical of Almena's message. The commenters said he showed more concern for his material possessions than the people who were killed in the blaze.

Danielle Boudreaux said she became fast friends with Almena and his wife Micah Allison when they met eight years ago before a falling out about a year ago over conditions at the warehouse.

Access to the second floor, where there was a room for concerts and a home for the couple and their children, was a rickety, homemade staircase, she said.

"Calling it a staircase gives you the idea that it was a set of stairs. It was not," Boudreaux said. "It was random pieces of wood put together to create something that you could get up to the top floor on. But it was not what most people would consider a staircase. It was like a jimmy-rigged makeshift staircase. As soon as you stepped on it, it wobbled all over the place."

Other former tenants have said there were constant problems with the power and hot water. One, Shelly Mack, described "all kinds of electrical cords running through there illegally." She called it a "death trap."

Long before the fire killed 36 partygoers in Oakland’s Fruitvale district late Friday night, Oakland officials had been fighting the owners of that building over hazardous or substandard conditions at their properties.

City building inspectors never set foot inside the Ghost Ship warehouse in 30 years. But dozens of public documents obtained by the Investigative Unit reveal city officials had routinely accused the building’s owners of neglect in connection with the warehouse and other properties they own. Those records show the Ng family, who own the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse and at least a dozen other properties across the Bay Area, failed to clean up dangerous or shoddy conditions at properties over a period of more than 15 years despite code violations and complaints from neighbors.

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez and Cheryl Hurd contributed to this report.

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