Derick Almena, the founder of the arts collective dubbed the Ghost Ship, will take the plea deal instead of facing 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to relatives of the victims of the fire who were told the news on Wednesday morning.
Dec. 2, 2020, marked the four-year anniversary of the blaze, which is considered one of the deadliest fires in California history.
Prosecutors accused Almena of extreme negligence as the caretaker of the East Oakland warehouse where the fire occurred, citing illegal construction projects, a dangerous clutter of wooden furniture and tapestries, and shoddy electrical work that created a tinderbox full of people when the fire broke out during a concert that nearly 100 people attended.
Max Harris, Almena’s co-defendant in the case, had closed off one of only two exit routes the night of the concert, which forced attendees to navigate a through a maze of rickety staircases made of wooden pallets. Almena and Harris were both arrested in 2017, but after a four-month trial, Harris was acquitted of all charges in 2019. Almena’s case was declared a mistrial, with only 10 jurors voting to convict, and the case has been in limbo due to halts in court activity during the pandemic.
If the plea deal is accepted, a hearing will be scheduled for Jan. 22.
Last July, Oakland reached a settlement with the victims’ families for more than $32 million. After the deadly fire, the city hired a new fire chief and updated its building enforcement codes.