Derick Almena, the former master tenant of San Francisco Bay Area warehouse and event space Ghost Ship, has been sentenced after pleading guilty to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter. Almena, 50, pleaded guilty in January following a devastating fire during an event at Ghost Ship in December 2016 that killed 36 people.
On Monday, 8th March, Almena was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but he is unlikely to spend any more time in jail. He was removed from jail last year due to coronavirus concerns, and has been under house arrest since. Because he received credit for good behaviour and time already served, it is likely that Almena will only serve another 18 months. These will be served at home while wearing an electronic ankle monitor, and will be followed by three years probation.
“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 following the case, AP reports. “I wish I could in the stroke of a pen take away your deep loss and your sadness.”
Thompson had previously been urged by family members of fire victims to reject the plea deal, which Almena had made with prosecutors to avoid a second trial, after the first ended with no verdict. “This lenient, slap-on-the-wrist sentence is vastly inappropriate for the crimes Derick Almena committed,” the family of fire victim Sarah Hoda said in a statement read to the court via teleconference. “Upholding the DA’s irresponsible plea recommendation would shortchange 36 victims and their families.”
Emilie Grandchamps, the mother of victim Alex Ghassan, said: “I often ask, why was my son given a death sentence for being in the wrong place and at the wrong time and those responsible for his and 35 others’ death are given a second chance at life? I want my son’s death not to go in vain,” she said.
Last year, families of the Ghost Ship fire victims received a $32.7 million settlement from City Of Oakland. At this time, 32 of the 36 lawsuits related to the fire were settled, with $23.5 million given to the families of those who died in the fire, and $9.2 million going to Sam Maxwell, who survived while sustaining life-changing injuries.
Ghost Ship had been converted into a living space and arts collective in Oakland, and was hosting an event featuring artists from local label 100% Silk when a fire broke out in December 2016. Among those who lost their lives in the fire were a number of key figures in the local Bay Area electronic music scene such as 100% Silk artists Nackt (otherwise known as Johnny Igaz) and Cherushii (otherwise known as Chelsea Faith Dolan).