OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - The major focus for the victims' families of the Ghost Ship fire has been on the criminal trial, but in the background civil attorneys are making progress on the lawsuit that calls out many more than just the two criminal defendants.
Ultimately civil attorneys hope to show others are to blame for what lead up to the deadly fire that killed 36 people in December 2016. The city of Oakland, the building's owners, utility Pacific Gas and Electric, and specific individuals are all named in the lawsuit.
The 13 families who are part of the suit are also suing master-tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris. Those two men are facing 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the criminal case and closing arguments are expected to start next Monday.
With so many twists and turns in the criminal trial, the civil trial may be pushed back until late next year. Attorneys have already begun depositions and spoken with three police officers so far about their knowledge of Ghost Ship. At least seven firefighters will be interviewed next, according to an attorney working on the civil case.
"We're moving toward trial and presenting a case to a jury," lead attorney Mary Alexander said. "I think that the goal of these families is for justice. It is for holding accountable those who took away the lives of their children."
The warehouse owners, Chor Ng, her daughter Eva Ng and son Kai Ng have never been charged criminally. When they were called by defense attorneys ahead of the jury being seated, they pleaded the fifth amendment against self-incrimination to every question. Civil lawyers intent to wait until after the statute of limitations runs out this December, exactly three years after the fire, to get depositions from the Ngs.
For now, civil attorneys are focused on another defendant they believe deserves some of the blame — the city of Oakland. In fact, 25,000 documents were just dumped in their laps including fire department records, building inspection history and code enforcement complaints.
"The documents have to do with what was done, when and who knew and so forth," Alexander said.
It's that information the families hope will unearth the missteps, neglect or lack of accountability that cost their loved ones' lives.
Additionally, there are added complications surrounding, PG&E because of the utility filing for bankruptcy following the recent wildfires.
"Because of the bankruptcy, PG&E is out of the civil case," lead attorney Mary Alexander said. "That means that these families will each have to file a claim for their loss within the bankruptcy, so we're going to be doing that and that process is just getting started."
For those families, Alexander said it could take several years before it is fully resolved because bankruptcy means any lawsuits facing PG&E are on hold.
For now, civil attorneys are patiently waiting for evidence from the criminal case to be handed over. They plan on interviewing witnesses between now and the end of the year and have already questioned three Oakland Police officers as part of the civil process.
2 Investigates will continue to follow both the criminal and civil cases in their entirety. If you know of any valuable information email KTVU2Investigates@FOXTV.com