Ghost Ship vic­tims’ fam­i­lies sue PG&E

Suit claims ‘bla­tant dis­re­gard’ for res­i­dents’ safety

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - By Evan Ser­noff­sky

Fam­i­lies of the vic­tims killed in Oak­land’s Ghost Ship fire sued Pa­cific Gas and Elec­tric Co. on Tues­day, say­ing the util­ity sup­plied power to the doomed artist space with “bla­tant dis­re­gard” for the safety of the peo­ple in the build­ing.

The law­suit — a master com­plaint con­sol­i­dat­ing sev­eral civil cases against the build­ing’s owner, man­ager and oth­ers con­nected to the property — is the lat­est le­gal action stem­ming from the Dec. 2 fire that killed 36, the state’s dead­li­est fire in more than a cen­tury.

PG&E was named as a de­fen­dant in the case for the first time Tues­day.

“PG&E ex­hib­ited a will­ful and bla­tant dis­re­gard for the safety of this build­ing and the

peo­ple that lived and vis­ited there,” at­tor­ney Mary Alexan­der, who rep­re­sents the fam­i­lies, said Tues­day.

The law­suit al­leges util­ity work­ers had in­stalled sev­eral smart me­ters in the build­ings ad­join­ing the Ghost Ship ware­house at 1305 31st Ave. in Oak­land’s Fruit­vale District, and they should have known that the build­ing’s elec­tri­cal sys­tem was “dan­ger­ous, de­fec­tive, out-of-code com­pli­ance, and an im­mi­nent threat to the health, safety and lives of the own­ers, oc­cu­pants, cus­tomers and in­vi­tees of those struc­tures.”

Alexan­der said at­tor­neys walked through the burned-out rem­nants of the ware­house and ob­served the ser­pen­tine sys­tem of elec­tri­cal cords that brought power through var­i­ous holes and chan­nels into the ram­shackle space.

That power al­legedly came from a trans­former box in­side a neigh­bor­ing auto body shop. Four prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing the auto body shop and Ghost Ship, shared one elec­tri­cal me­ter.

The blaze erupted dur­ing an un­per­mit­ted elec­tronic mu­sic event and quickly overwhelmed the build­ing, which had been il­le­gally con­verted into an artist col­lec­tive. Scores of peo­ple in­side es­caped, but the 36 vic­tims trapped in­side all died from smoke in­hala­tion, of­fi­cials said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors nar­rowed the ori­gin of the fire to a shared kitchen area in the rear of the ware­house’s first floor. Agents with the fed­eral Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives said they were look­ing into the build­ing’s elec­tri­cal sys­tem as part of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the fire.

The Alameda County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice is con­duct­ing a separate crim­i­nal probe into the fire.

PG&E of­fi­cials re­leased a state­ment on Tues­day, but they said they had not seen the law­suit.

“We can say that our thoughts and prayers are with the fam­i­lies and friends of the vic­tims of this tragic event,” said Ta­mar Sarkissian, a PG&E spokes­woman. “We’ve re­viewed our records and over the last 10-plus years, we have no re­ports of elec­tric theft or any other anom­alies from this lo­ca­tion or the ad­ja­cent premises. We’re fully co­op­er­at­ing with au­thor­i­ties as they in­ves­ti­gate this tragic event.”

Co-plain­tiff Leisa Askew, whose 22-yearold daugh­ter, Cash Askew, died in the fire, spoke to re­porters on Tues­day out­side the Alameda County Su­pe­rior Court­house near Lake Mer­ritt.

“I don’t have any faith that this will bring my child back, but 36 peo­ple died,” she said, while hold­ing a framed pic­ture of her daugh­ter. “I just can’t stand by and let that hap­pen.”

Tues­day’s master com­plaint seeks to stream­line civil action filed in the months af­ter the fire by sev­eral plain­tiffs rep­re­sented by var­i­ous law firms.

Also ac­cused of neg­li­gence are build­ing owner Chor Ng, master ten­ant Der­ick Al­mena, event pro­moter Jon Hrabko, mu­sic per­former Joel Shana­han (known as Golden Donna) and oth­ers.

At­tor­neys for the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies have sep­a­rately filed le­gal claims against the city of Oak­land, Alameda County and the state of Cal­i­for­nia re­lated to the tragedy. They have un­til June 2 — six months af­ter the fire — to file ad­di­tional claims.

A le­gal claim is a nec­es­sary le­gal pro­ce­dure when bring­ing ac­tions against a govern­ment en­tity and of­ten pre­cedes a law­suit.

City of­fi­cials have faced criticism for not step­ping in be­fore the fire. Po­lice of­fi­cers and build­ing in­spec­tors had been to the site be­fore, but ap­par­ently didn’t in­form fire in­spec­tors of the dan­gers in­side. De­spite a fire sta­tion be­ing just a block away, the build­ing wasn’t in the Fire De­part­ment’s data­base and no one had ever stepped foot on the premises for a for­mal in­spec­tion.

“The city is ab­so­lutely cul­pa­ble in what happened here,” said Christo­pher Dolan, an­other at­tor­ney for the fam­i­lies. “They had af­fir­ma­tive action to shut it down, but they chose to turn a blind eye.”

Paul Kuroda / Spe­cial to The Chronicle

Leisa Askew, holds a pic­ture of her daugh­ter, Cash, with her at­tor­ney out­side an Alameda County court­house Tues­day.

Paul Kuroda / Spe­cial to The Chronicle

At­tor­ney Mary Alexan­der speaks in front of mem­bers of the fam­i­lies of 10 of the vic­tims who died in the Dec. 2 fire in Oak­land’s Fruit­vale District out­side the Rene C. David­son Court­house near Lake Mer­ritt.

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