Sheriff: More bodies may not be found in warehouse
Fire’s death toll at 36 as officials search evidence
OAKLAND, CALIF. | Prosecutors said Monday that murder charges could result from their investigation into the fire that broke out during an underground dance party at an Oakland building known as the “Ghost Ship.”
Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern told The Associated Press he didn’t think there would be additional bodies found as the death toll reached 36 in the most lethal building fire in the U.S. in more than a decade.
But he cautioned that it was “impossible to be absolutely positive” until the entire recovery effort is complete. Authorities had gone through about three-quarters of the building by Monday afternoon.
The laborious job of digging with shovels and buckets through the debris was suspended overnight because of a dangerously unstable wall. It resumed in the morning, though a rainstorm Tuesday could complicate the effort. The cluttered warehouse had been converted to artists’ studios and illegal living spaces, and former denizens said it was a death trap of piled wood, furniture, snaking electrical cords and only two exits.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said Monday her office has sent a team to search for evidence of a crime in the warehouse, but has not yet determined whether a crime even occurred. She said potential charges could range from involuntary manslaughter to murder. She declined to say who her team has interviewed.
“It’s too early to speculate on anything,” Ms. O’Malley said. “We just started our investigation, and we owe it to the community and those who perished in this fire, and those who survived the fire to be methodical, to be thorough, and to take the amount of time it takes to be able to look at every piece of potential evidence.”
Oakland city councilman Noel Gallo, who lives a block from the warehouse, said he confronted the property’s manager — Derick Ion Almena — several times about neighbors’ concerns about trash in the street and in front of the warehouse. Mr. Gallo said Mr. Almena essentially told authorities to “mind their own business” and appeared resistant to addressing complaints and complying with city codes.
Mr. Almena and his wife, Micah Allison, ran the building’s arts colony called the Satya Yuga collective.
Mr. Almena told San Jose television station KNTV in an interview Monday that about 20 people lived there. He said he had gone to a hotel Friday night with Ms. Allison and their children because he was exhausted.
“We’re sorry to the families and all the friends that have lost loved ones,” he said, with Ms. Allison by his side holding his hand. “I gladly would give my entire life of fortune, of wealth of experience again and again and again, and I say this to you and I say this to the camera and to whoever is watching me that I surrender everything.”
He denied knowing about the Friday night party, but acquaintances said the couple threw frequent parties open to the public, for fees collected at the door.
Mr. Almena said police have been in and out of the building in the last few years to respond to break-ins and other concerns of people who lived there and that they never pointed out any safety concerns.