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Defendant in fatal warehouse blaze ‘not blaming anyone’

FILE – This undated file photo provided by the City of Oakland shows the burned warehouse after the deadly fire that broke out on Dec. 2, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Derick Almena, the founder of a California communal living warehouse where a fire killed 36 people more than two years ago, says he’s not blaming anyone else in the deadly fire, the East Bay Times reported Thursday, July 11, 2019. (City of Oakland via AP, File)

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The founder of a California communal living warehouse where a fire killed 36 people more than two years ago says testified Thursday he’s not blaming anyone else for the deadly fire.

“I’m not blaming anyone,” Derick Almena said during his cross-examination.

His comment was met with scoffs from some of the victims’ relatives, the East Bay Times reported.

Almena, 49, is accused of illegally converting the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland into a communal living space and faces 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter along with co-defendant Max Harris, 29.

During his questioning of Almena, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Autrey James brought up interviews Almena gave to an Oakland television station while in custody in 2017 and 2018 and called out one particular moment when Almena said how the whole structure of his defense is “pointing and blaming.”

Almena contested using the word “blame” and said he is not blaming anyone.

Almena’s defense has made it known they are shifting blame to city officials, such as police, fire and building inspectors who they say should have known about the dangers of the Ghost Ship warehouse.

James went through a list of 19 people who lived at the Ghost Ship throughout the years and with each person’s name, he asked Almena if they signed the lease.

With each, Almena said that no, they had not signed the lease. Only Almena and Nico Brouchard, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, were on the lease for the warehouse.

Prosecutors say Almena illegally converted the warehouse into a living space and failed to provide smoke detectors, fire alarms, sprinklers and other required safety equipment. They say Harris helped Almena convert the warehouse, collect rent and schedule concerts there.

Almena’s attorney Tony Serra is expected to question his client again Thursday afternoon.

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Information from: East Bay Times, http://www.eastbaytimes.com

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