cloudy
Tuesday October 16th, 2018 9:00AM

Judge set to sentence men in deadly Oakland warehouse fire

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Two men who accepted a deal in exchange for each pleading no contest to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a California warehouse fire will likely be released from prison after serving just half their sentences.

It's typical for California prison inmates who keep a good disciplinary record to be released after serving half their terms.

Judge James Cramer on Friday is expected to sentence 48-year-old Derick Almena to nine years in prison and 28-year-old Max Harris to six years, even though relatives of victims of the 2016 blaze in Oakland have slammed the proposed sentences as too lenient.

Tearful, grieving relatives testified Thursday about their losses and asked Cramer to reject the deal, but he gave no indication that he would comply with the request.

A prosecutor said the two men had turned the warehouse into a residential "death trap" by cluttering it with highly flammable knick-knacks, blocking the building's few exits and failing to make adequate safety precautions before inviting the public inside.

Speakers at the hearing also criticized the city over the devastating fire.

"The city of Oakland should be held accountable" for failing to inspect and shut down the warehouse, Colleen Dolan said as she showed a photo of her smiling 33-year-old daughter, Chelsea Dolan, that had been taken a few weeks before her death.

Dolan also tried to display a coroner's photo of her daughter's charred body, but Cramer gently interrupted her and said he had previously seen it.

"I had to kiss that burned body goodbye," Dolan said, agreeing to comply. "I am angry and bereft."

Moments later, Cramer politely interrupted Paul Matiasic, an attorney reading a statement by Sami Long Koppelman, whose 34-year-old son, Edmond William Lapine, was killed.

Mataiasic asked the judge rhetorically if he had ever lost a child.

"Yes, I have," Cramer said with a sad smile. "Just so you know."

Many people in the courtroom gasped. The judge did not elaborate.

Cyrus Hoda, the brother of victim Sarah Hoda, 30, said the plea bargain was a "sweetheart deal" and labeled Almena and Harris as "culture vultures" trying to become San Francisco Bay Area arts players by luring people to a dangerous place to live and party.

Almena's wife and three children also lived in the warehouse but were staying in a nearby hotel the night of the fire. His wife, Micah Allison, and one of their daughters sat quietly in court alongside the grieving families.

Dressed in jail garb, Almena looked unemotionally at the relatives as they testified, while Harris stared at the judge, who approved the plea deal last month.

Cramer told relatives of victims to try to keep their emotions in check during the testimony, which he said would be "a heart-wrenching hearing as befits the enormous loss in this case."

Almena and Harris could have faced life in prison if convicted at a trial. They already have spent a year behind bars.

Investigators from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they were unable to determine a cause of the blaze.

Victims' relatives allege in lawsuits that the Oakland Fire Department failed to inspect the warehouse annually as required and that inspectors would have discovered the illegal conversions.

Alex Katz, a spokesman for the city attorney, declined to comment.

The lawsuits also claim Pacific Gas & Electric Co. failed to properly monitor, inspect and repair electrical equipment that provided power to the warehouse.

PG&E said in a statement that it cooperated with the investigation and that a review of its records found no electrical problems at the building in the 10 years before the fire.

Warehouse owner Chor Ng, who has not been charged, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines
© Copyright 2018 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Firefighters battle to curb wildfire before winds return
Firefighters are working to curb a wildfire threatening thousands of homes in the foothills south of Los Angeles before gusty winds can return to drive its explosive growth
2:30AM ( 46 minutes ago )
Father recalls compound suspect as high-strung, not radical
A well-known imam whose three children were among the five adults arrested during a raid on a New Mexico compound says he doesn't understand why his son and the others disappeared into the desert
2:28AM ( 49 minutes ago )
Judge set to sentence men in deadly Oakland warehouse fire
Two men who accepted a plea deal in exchange for each pleading no contest to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in a California warehouse fire will likely be released from prison after serving just half their sentences
2:15AM ( 1 hour ago )
U.S. News
Johnson parlays recon of Bellerive into sharp PGA start
Zach Johnson slipped away to St. Louis last week to play a quick round at Bellerive in advance of the PGA Championship, and the two-time major winner thinks it was a wise move
2:31AM ( 45 minutes ago )
Thousands in mosque standoff in China over demolition plan
Thousands of Muslims have gathered at a mosque in northwestern China to protest its planned demolition in a rare, public pushback to the government's efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced
2:30AM ( 46 minutes ago )
Andrew Luck makes return as Colts beat Seahawks 19-17
Andrew Luck returned to game action for the first time since the final week of the 2016 season, leading Indianapolis on a pair of field-goal drives in just over a quarter in the Colts' 19-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night
2:25AM ( 52 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Porn star lawyer Avenatti takes his fighting message to Iowa
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for the porn actress taking on President Donald Trump, is taking his message to Iowa Democrats.
12:41AM ( 2 hours ago )
Prosecutors to rest case at Manafort financial fraud trial
Prosecutors in Paul Manafort's financial fraud trial say they expect to rest their case on Friday
12:31AM ( 2 hours ago )
Appeals court tells EPA to stop sales of harmful pesticide
The Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered to stop sales of a widely used pesticide within two months
12:17AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
Tennessee carries out its 1st execution in nearly a decade
Tennessee executes first inmate since 2009, man condemned for 1985 rape and murder of 7-year-old girl he was babysitting
11:56PM ( 3 hours ago )
Hoops coach pleads not guilty for punch that killed tourist
A college basketball coach who threw a punch that killed a New York City tourist has pleaded not guilty to an assault charge
11:51PM ( 3 hours ago )
Flames inch close to California homes as thousands evacuate
An intentionally set wildfire grew perilously close to homes in Southern California on Thursday as evacuation orders expanded to more than 20,000 residents, though some homeowners stayed behind to fend off the flames themselves
11:10PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Rescue team rushes to help ailing orca spotted off Canada
Teams of whale experts are racing out to sea to help an ailing young killer whale
11:18PM ( 3 hours ago )
US wildlife boss departs after stirring fears on species law
The head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is stepping down after a 14-month tenure in which he proposed broad changes to rules governing protections for thousands of plant and animal species
9:36PM ( 5 hours ago )
Billionaire drops quest to split California into 3 parts
The billionaire behind a proposal to split California in three says he's giving up on the effort after the state Supreme Court knocked it off the November ballot
8:55PM ( 6 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Pence outlines US Space Force plan for 'next battlefield'
Vice President Mike Pence says the time has come to establish a new United States Space Force to ensure America's dominance in space amid heightened competition and threats from China and Russia
6:37PM ( 8 hours ago )
Hamas says Gaza cease-fire reached with Israel
Gaza's Hamas rulers say a truce had been reached, ending an intense two-day burst of violence with Israel that had pushed the region closer to war
5:48PM ( 9 hours ago )
APNewsBreak: Kobach's lead in Kansas race falls to 91 votes
APNewsBreak: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's lead over Gov. Jeff Colyer in the Republican primary has shrunk to 91 votes after election officials discovered a mistake in the listing for one county's results in the state's tally
5:41PM ( 9 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Firefighters battle to curb wildfire before winds return
Firefighters are working to curb a wildfire threatening thousands of homes in the foothills south of Los Angeles before gusty winds can return to drive its explosive growth
2:30AM ( 46 minutes ago )
Father recalls compound suspect as high-strung, not radical
A well-known imam whose three children were among the five adults arrested during a raid on a New Mexico compound says he doesn't understand why his son and the others disappeared into the desert
2:28AM ( 49 minutes ago )
APNewsBreak: Indiana candidate's brand markets Chinese parts
Indiana Senate candidate Mike Braun rails against foreign outsourcing on the campaign trail, even as his own company continues to sell its trademarked brand of auto accessories, many of which are made in China
12:47AM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Compound incident called anti-Muslim propaganda
A representative of a New York mosque says the raid of a ramshackle compound in New Mexico is being used as propaganda against Muslims
12:08AM ( 3 hours ago )
Tennessee carries out its 1st execution in nearly a decade
Tennessee executes first inmate since 2009, man condemned for 1985 rape and murder of 7-year-old girl he was babysitting
11:56PM ( 3 hours ago )