OAKLAND, Calif. – A former tenant of an Oakland warehouse says police were called to the unlicensed residence several times to help with evictions before a fire last year that killed three dozen people, and even knew the leaseholder by name.
Jose Avalos, a woodworker who moved into the Ghost Ship two years before the Dec. 2, 2016 fire, testified Thursday on the second day of a preliminary hearing for two men charged with involuntary manslaughter in their deaths, Derick Almena, 47, and Max Harris, 27.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Avalos testified one officer often stopped by the warehouse to check in, asking, "Is my best friend Derick here?"
Prosecutors say Almena and Harris were primarily responsible for the warehouse. Almena, the master tenant, sublet areas in the space for between $350 to $1,400, according to a probable cause declaration. Harris collected rent from the residents, and prosecutors said he rented out the second floor of the warehouse for the electronic music festival the night of the fire.
Avalos testified Thursday that there were frequent power outages at the Ghost Ship and that residents would go to the auto body shop next door to reset the breaker whenever the power went out.
"There was a long period of time we didn't have steady power," Avalos testified. "We had to be careful. There were times it happened day after day. Sometimes it'd be like once a week."
The cause of the deadly blazed was listed as undetermined.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner will decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial with the charges against Almena and Harris after the preliminary hearing, which is expected to last five days.