DUBLIN, Calif. — A man charged with involuntary manslaughter in a California warehouse fire that killed 36 people last December says the building’s owner shares responsibility for the deaths.
Derick Almena said in a jailhouse interview airing on Oakland television KTVU Monday night that he told owner Chor Ng he planned to use the Oakland warehouse as an arts space and community center and that she knew people would be coming in and out.
Almena said he thought it would be the building owner’s responsibility to inform the city that artists would be occupying it but that city officials never inspected the cluttered warehouse.
“They definitely rented me something that they knew was unsafe. They definitely did,” he said.
Attorneys for Ng have denied she knew people lived in the warehouse. Keith Bremer, an attorney for Ng, declined to comment.
Almena rented the warehouse in 2013 and lived there with his family. Max Harris, who is also charged in the case, also lived in the building and helped Almena book musical acts and sublet the space to artists looking for affordable housing.
On Dec. 2, a fire engulfed the structure during a musical performance that dozens attended.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said the pair turned the warehouse into a “death trap” by illegally converting the building into an entertainment venue and housing for artists.
O’Malley argued that once the men rented living space to tenants, they were responsible for the installation of sprinklers and to ensure the building was safe. Instead, the men cluttered the warehouse with flammable materials, she said.
Lawyers for Almena and Harris say they are scapegoats and that the building’s owner, who Almena described during the interview as “deceitful and greedy,” should face criminal charges.
In September, Almena and Harris pleaded not guilty. Each face 60 years in prison if convicted.