Samuel “Peaches” Maxwell knew the layout of the Ghostship Warehouse. He had been to the space several times before for parties.
When he smelled smoke during the Golden Donna 100% Silk event, he went to the back of the DJ booth to help friends look for an electrical wiring problem.
The lights went out and flames started shooting up from the floorboards.
"Sam apparently felt his way along the walls and along the floor and got down,” said his father Bill Maxwell.
“He knew his way well enough around to get back to the front door."
This was the story his parents, Bill and Wendi Maxwell, heard from Sam’s friends. Sam, a 32 year-old book seller in Oakland, had texted early that Saturday morning that he survived the fire that would go on to claim 36 lives.
"He texted me saying 'I'm out and I'm alive.' I had no idea what he was talking about,” said Wendi Maxwell.
Sam is said to be the last person to make it out of the burning warehouse alive. His friends drove him to Highland Hospital. He had burns on the tips of his ears and nose, but smoke inhalation presented the biggest threat.
“If you go home and don’t get treated, your throat can suddenly close up and you can suffocate,” Mrs. Maxwell said she was told.
“He was also coughing up gunk that looked like inhaled wood ash.”
After reaching the hospital, Sam’s medical condition became much more serious and he was transferred to St. Francis Hospital’s Bothin Burn Center. He called his parents, who live in Stockton, and told them doctors wanted to put him into a medically induced coma.
"They put me through to his doctor immediately and she said they needed to intubate him, because his throat was swelling up,” said Mrs. Maxwell.
“I said, ‘I haven't seen him, I haven't talked to him.’ She said 'How far away are you?' About an hour and a half. She said, 'I'm sorry, but I can't wait that long."
Sam spent five weeks in a coma, breathing with a ventilator.
“For the first several weeks, while the doctors were giving him oxygen, his lungs weren’t processing it and doctors had a hard time figuring out why,” said Mr. Maxwell.
"Apparently, because of the different toxins and all of the different materials in the fire that were in the warehouse, whatever he inhaled it affected his ability to process oxygen."
Sam’s mother said he had to be given a cyanide antidote medication, because “the chemicals from the burning substances can interact in your body and create a cyanide poison. That’s how we knew how serious this was.”
Sam is now awake, but cannot move or talk. A tracheal tube was inserted and he’s undergoing speech therapy.
"He has to relearn how to walk, how to reuse his hands, every single muscle in his body has to come back to life,” said Mrs. Maxwell.
This family and doctors do not know how much of the fire Sam remembers, but they are certain he does not yet know the enormity of loss.
"He must have known, I'm sure his friends knew, that people had died,” said Mr. Maxwell.
“But they didn't know before he was induced. At that point, nobody knew the extent. He certainly doesn't know whether friends of his were trapped in there."
The Maxwells have spent every day at the burn unit and said they’ve leaned on Sam’s friends, who continue to show up to the hospital, even if they can’t see him. His employer is holding his job and The Red Cross and St. Francis Burn Support Group have paid Sam’s rent and his parents’ daily parking fees.