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California

Plea deals expected for 2 men in Oakland warehouse fire case

FILE - This Dec. 3, 2016, file image from video provided by KGO-TV shows the Ghost Ship Warehouse af
The Ghost Ship Warehouse is seen Dec. 3, 2016, after a fire swept through the building in Oakland.
(KGO-TV / Associated Press)

Two men are expected to accept plea-bargain prison sentences Tuesday to resolve felony charges connected to a Northern California warehouse fire that killed three dozen partygoers at an unlicensed concert in 2016.

Derick Almena and Max Harris will plead guilty in exchange for prison sentences of less than 10 years each, Almena’s attorney, Tony Serra, said. With time off for good behavior, they will likely be released after serving half their sentences.

Tyler Smith and Curtis Briggs, lawyers representing Harris, said the agreement was reached after more than two hours of negotiations Friday.

The judge asked lawyers to refrain from discussing details until the defendants appear in court.

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Alameda County prosecutor Teresa Drenick declined to comment.

Almena rented the warehouse and illegally converted it into a residence and entertainment venue. Harris helped Almena collect rent and schedule for-profit music shows.

A fire quickly destroyed the structure during a December 2016 electronic music performance, killing 36 attendees unable to find exits.

Prosecutors say Almena and Harris turned the cluttered building into a “death trap” with few exits, rickety stairs and dark and dangerous passageways. Each man was charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

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Almena lived in the warehouse with his wife and three children. But the family was staying in a nearby hotel the night of the fire.

Harris also lived in the warehouse and escaped the fire unharmed.

Serra said a plea deal will spare the victims’ families from testifying at a trial where photos of burned bodies and other emotionally fraught evidence would be shown.

Both men have already been credited with two years of imprisonment for the years they have spent in jail.


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