Ghost Ship trial: Almena’s wife says authorities never said warehouse was unsafe

The wife of Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena testified Tuesday that police and fire officials who visited the building on multiple occasions never told the people who lived there that they thought it was unsafe. Taking the witness stand in the trial of Almena, 49, and creative director Max Harris, 29, Micah Allison said authorities never told people at the warehouse to make changes or bring it up to code and said building inspectors never came there. Almena and Harris are each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deadly blaze at a music party at the warehouse in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue on the night of Dec. 2, 2016, that killed 36 people.

Wearing a dress, a black jacket and large earrings, and sporting a large tattoo on her chest, Allison said she has been in a relationship with Almena for 20 years, has been married to him for 13 years and they have three children together. Allison said she initially wasn’t enthusiastic about moving into the warehouse in the fall of 2014 when Almena signed a lease for the 10,000-square-foot building, but said, “I fell in love with it” after she saw it. Allison, who studied dance and has worked as a choreographer, said her vision for the warehouse was that it would be “a space where people would create art and music and we could have dance classes and workshops.”

Alameda County prosecutors allege that Almena and Harris are criminally responsible for the fire because the partygoers didn’t have the time or opportunity to escape the blaze since the warehouse didn’t have important safeguards, such as fire sprinklers, smoke alarms and lighted exit signs. They also allege that Almena and Harris violated the terms of the warehouse’s lease by turning it into a living space for up to 25 people and hosting underground music parties there.

But defense attorneys allege that government officials, such as police officers, firefighters and child service workers, are at least partly responsible for the blaze because they all toured the warehouse before the fire and failed to report it for dangerous conditions.

Almena’s lawyer Tony Serra called Allison to the witness stand in part to try to contradict the testimony of former Oakland Acting Assistant Fire Marshal Maria Sabatini, who said on May 21 that she didn’t go inside the warehouse when she investigated an arson fire on a couch on the sidewalk outside the building on Sept. 26, 2014. Sabatini said she didn’t go in because the damage to the building was “relatively superficial” and there wasn’t any damage to its interior. But Allison said on Tuesday that Sabatini did in fact come inside and tour the building that day and gave her her business card. Allison said Sabatini “had positive words to say” about the warehouse and spoke with her and other Ghost Ship residents.

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