Who is Derick Almena? ‘Ghost Ship’ tenant avoids prison over California warehouse fire that killed 36
The master tenant of a warehouse in the San Francisco Bay area that caught fire and killed 36 people attending a music event was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison, although he is likely to spend the term in house arrest.
Derick Almena was already on house arrest after being released from jail last year due to COVID-19 concerns. He is now ordered to serve the rest of his term under electronic monitoring followed by three years of probation, Fox News reported.
The sentencing came at the conclusion of an emotionally charged case that was first derailed by a hung jury and then the pandemic. “I know that no family member will find this in any way acceptable, and I accept that responsibility,” Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson said.
Thompson had been urged by several of the victims’ relatives to reject a plea deal Almena had struck with prosecutors to avoid a second trial. In January, the 50-year-old pleaded guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in exchange for a 12-year sentence, which was deemed too lenient by the plaintiffs.
But after receiving credit for time already served in prison while awaiting trial and for good behavior, Almena will spend the next one and half years at home with an electronic ankle bracelet. Meanwhile, he is also ordered to pay restitution which will be determined by the court at a later date, according to Fox News.
“This lenient, slap-on-the-wrist sentence is vastly inappropriate for the crimes Derick Almena committed,” the family of fire victim Sarah Hoda told the court via teleconference. “Upholding the DA’s irresponsible plea recommendation would shortchange 36 victims and their families.”
Thompson and prosecutors responded saying they had taken into consideration the challenges of a second trial, such as selecting jurors during a pandemic, calling witnesses to court due to travel bans, as well as the publicity the first trial received.
Almena was criminally negligent when he illegally converted the industrial warehouse in Oakland into a residence and rented it out to artists, who dubbed it the “Ghost Ship.” Prosecutors noted how the building was filled with flammable materials and extension cords, and had no smoke detectors or sprinklers, per Fox News.
The inferno broke out at the warehouse on December 2, 2016, during an electronic music event. Victims, who were trapped on the illegally constructed second floor, got no warning and had slim chances of escaping down a narrow, broken staircase.
In 2019, Thompson’s courtroom was packed for months with family and friends of the victims, who became familiar with the judge. However, a jury was split on whether to convict Almen, who leased the building. What’s more? The jury also found co-defendant Max Harris — reportedly the Ghost Ship’s “creative director” and rent collector — not guilty.