OAKLAND, California (December 5, 2016) — A criminal investigation is underway into the cause of a fire that claimed the lives of at least 36 young people Friday night who were trapped inside a two-story converted warehouse where an underground music concert was being held, according to CNN.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley told reporters that charges could range from involuntary manslaughter to murder.
The warehouse, which was home to aspiring artists and musicians, is located at the intersection of 31st Avenue and International Boulevard. The fire broke out about 11:32 p.m. on Dec. 2.
The death toll, which includes mostly young people as well as teenagers, is expected to rise as firefighters search through debris in the aftermath. Dental records and DNA may be required to identify the remains of some of those still unaccounted for.
The 4,000-square-foot warehouse reportedly only had two exits and stairways to the second floor were fashioned out of old wood pallets and could only hold one person at a time. The local city planning and building department was already investigating the facility for illegally housing people in the building, according to Darin Ranelletti, who is serving as the department’s interim director.
The Los Angeles Times reported that an investigation into the cause of the fire is underway and survivors and families are now questioning why Oakland city officials didn’t crack down on the owners of the building despite many complaints about safety hazards. Roughly 20 people lived in the warehouse where some of them also worked as artists. The city was allegedly notified by residents and neighbors about the unsafe conditions at the warehouse including complaints about trash heaps piled up outside.
Among the complaints was the owner of the building did not obtain building permits necessary to create a complex patchwork of live-work rooms inside the building. The warehouse may not have been approved as a residence at all. The facility did not appear to have been equipped with necessary fire alarms or sprinklers, the Times reported. These fire inspections could have alerted the city to the potential tinderbox conditions described by those who lived there or visited the warehouse, the Times reported.
In fact, a city building code inspector paid a visit to the warehouse on November 17 after receiving numerous complaints by residents and local businesses, but was unable to get inside. It’s unclear why the inspector did not follow up or make more effort to gain access, but families are now searching for answers. Neighbors also told the LA Times that they called the police on numerous occasions.
Former residents told the Times that there was no heat in the facility and residents who lived there often used space heaters, generators and propane tanks to keep warm.
“The city and the owner of this building could be jointly held accountable for not ensuring the safety of people who were on these premises,” said Attorney James Johnson. “It’s not acceptable to allow this unsafe dangerous condition to exist.”
The venue, known to party-goers as the “Ghost Ship,” attracted an eclectic crowd of musicians and artists who shared similar interests. The victims who died in the fire that have been identified so far are: Cash Askew, 22, of Oakland; David Cline, 24; Travis Hough, 35, of Oakland; Donna Kellogg, 32; Feral Pines, 29, of Oakland; Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward; Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado; and Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek. There was also a 17-year-old whose identity has not been released because he or she is a minor.
Three of the victims were apparently from other countries: Finland, Korea and Guatemala.
Those of us at Johnson Attorneys Group offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of victims who died in this horrible fire. We also send prayers to those who were hurt in hopes of a full recovery.
Help for Families
If you were injured in or have lost a loved one due to a negligent property owner or government entity, it’s important that you take immediate steps to preserve your legal rights. We understand that losing a loved one is not only a deeply emotional loss, but also an economic one. If you have been injured or have lost a loved one due to a negligent party, contact our law firm and speak with an experienced Oakland personal injury and wrongful death attorney today at 800-235-6801. Our team will bring all our expertise to your case and help you get the justice you deserve.
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