Man Appears in Court Over Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

A man blamed for the nation's deadliest structure fire in more than 14 years at the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse in California appeared briefly in court Thursday to face 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Derick Almena, 47, was scheduled to enter a plea in Alameda County Superior Court, but his attorney asked for the arraignment to be scheduled later. Almena was ordered back to court June 15 when his co-defendant in the case is expected to make his first appearance before a judge.

Almena and Max Harris, 27, were arrested Monday after a six-month investigation by prosecutors. The two are charged with illegally converting an Oakland warehouse into housing for artists and a cluttered party space, which caught fire the night of Dec. 2 during an electronic music concert and killed 36 people.

Almena leased the building in November 2013, and Harris is accused of helping Almena sublet space to promoters and tenants.

The warehouse was not licensed for housing or entertainment. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley charged Almena with cluttering the space with highly flammable material and failing to provide adequate fire safety systems to tenants and visitors.

Investigators say the maze-like interior had only one exit that night, and it was difficult to find when the lights went out.

Almena's attorney, Jeffrey Krasnoff, says his client plans to fight the charges and called him a "scapegoat." Krasnoff says Almena's arrest ``doesn't help the public good'' and distracts from the San Francisco Bay Area's affordable housing crisis.

Before his arrest, Almena said he was trying to create a collective where artists could live and work affordably.

Harris was arrested in Los Angeles on the same charges. He is being held in jail there until Alameda County sheriff's deputies can arrange his transfer north. Harris has no attorney on record.

Both men are jailed on bail of nearly $1.1 million each.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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