Man charged for Ghost Ship warehouse fire laughed when he was told it was a 'death trap', claims witness
Rodney Griffin was one of the witnesses who was called on Tuesday in the Alameda County Superior Court trial against Derick Almena and 29-year-old Max Harris
Rodney Griffin testified on May 7 that when he told Derick Almena that the Ghost Ship warehouse was a death trap, Almena reportedly replied: "Ha, ha, we should call it ‘Satya Yuga Death Trap'." The artists' collective that had been living inside the warehouse has called itself Satya Yuga. Griffin said in court: "I shook my head and left." The man was one of the witnesses who was called on Tuesday in the Alameda County Superior Court trial against Almena and 29-year-old Max Harris.
The fire that gutted the illegally-converted warehouse in Oakland claimed the lives of 36 people on December 2, 2016. The victims were all attending an electronic music concert and had become trapped inside the building because the passages had been blocked by piano benches and an inflatable screen.
One of the emergency exit stairwell’s had been blocked off while the only one that was free ended up becoming a bottleneck for fleeing concertgoers who were desperate to get off the second floor where the fire originated, reported MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) earlier.
The East Bay Times reported that both Almena and Harris were charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter after the warehouse fire in East Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood which claimed the lives of three dozen people who had gone there for a dance party. Even though Griffin isn't a licensed contractor, he has over 40 years of experience in construction, electrical work and manufacturing.
He visited the Ghost Ship warehouse in 2013 after Almena had requested him to evaluate the building before signing a lease with the owners. Griffin was close friends with Almena and had also lived with his family for a year. He told the man that a fire exit door had to be brought up to code for around $2,000. Griffin also told Almena that the cost would be $3,000 totally to build a stairway between the first and second floors as well.
Almena brushed it off citing how expensive it was and that he could get it done for less. Griffin also testified that Almena wanted to build the stairs with pallets. Only six months after Almena signed the lease, Griffin returned and described the warehouse as a "death trap". He testified that he saw three motor homes inside the 10,000-square-foot building, as well as pianos, organs, tapestries, artwork, old wood pieces, and stacks of speakers and bed frames.
Griffin had approached the Oakland Fire Department station a few blocks away from the warehouse soon after the arson fire was reported in September 2014 and told officials about the warehouse's interiors. This was especially considering Almena's children had been living on the second floor of the building. The fire officials, however, told him that they had it "under control", he testified.
During the trial, Dr. Thomas Rogers, a forensic pathologist with the Alameda County Coroner’s Office, testified about performing the autopsies on nine of the Ghost Ship victims. He also said that the cause of death of all nine victims was from smoke inhalation.
A key witness scheduled to testify at the trial died in a car crash, prosecutors told a judge on Monday. Alameda County prosecutors had planned to call Robert Jacobitz to testify this week after they said that Almena and Harris had turned the warehouse into an unsafe entertainment venue and residence.
Alameda County deputy district attorney Casey Bates told jurors last week that Jacobitz was an unlicensed contractor who performed inexpensive work at the warehouse soon after Almena rented it in November 2013. Investigators looked closely at the warehouse's electrical system before concluding the cause of the fire could not be determined.
Testimony in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Derick Almena and Max Harris started on Monday in Oakland with a tearful mother of one of the victim's telling the jury about her daughter's last moments. Carol Cidlik said she received a text from her 29-year-old daughter Nicole Siegrist at 11:23 p.m. on the night of the fire. "I'm gonna die now," Nicole texted her mother. Investigators said Siegrist and the 35 other victims all died of smoke inhalation minutes later.
With AP inputs.