Alameda County Court House

Jenna Lane/KCBS Radio

At Ghost Ship Trial, Focus Shifts To Fire Code

Jenna Lane
May 08, 2019 - 9:50 pm


OAKLAND — An Alameda County jury spent much of the last two days learning about fire codes that govern Oakland buildings like the Ghost Ship warehouse, where 36 people were trapped and died in a 2016 fire.

Defense attorneys for the two men facing manslaughter charges, master tenant Derick Almena and resident Max Harris, point out that there’s no record of Oakland fire inspectors ever visiting the building.

The extensive testimony of Cesar Avila, former assistant fire marshal for the city of Oakland, ended with a glimpse of what one of the defendants is thinking.


Almena passed a note to his attorney with a question about whether a building owner is responsible for fire safety upgrades when entering into a lease that makes clear the tenant plans to change the building’s use. Avila did not get to answer, because prosecutors objected. 

Almena’s attorney later told reporters that in a sidebar, Judge Trina Thompson essentially said it’s up to the jury to decide who is responsible for keeping a building in compliance with the fire code.

Testimony will switch gears before the trial recesses for the weekend. A woman who lived at the Ghost Ship warehouse two years before the deadly fire there has taken the stand. Jennifer Turner is expected to testify that she left after just a few weeks because she felt it was unsafe.

Prosecutors have declined to talk with reporters during the trial, as have the victims’ loved ones. Family members have wiped away tears during each forensic pathologist’s description of the deaths in the fire, all from smoke inhalation.