As Ghost Ship criminal case concludes, parents still demand answers

The two defendants in the Ghost Ship criminal case are back in an Oakland courtroom Thursday and Friday. Derick Almena and Max Harris are set to be sentenced, after agreeing to a plea deal in July. 

The sentencing hearing will bring the criminal case to a close, while leaving some families feeling they are being denied justice. 

By Almena and Harris accepting a plea deal, the two avoid a jury trial of the criminal case. Critics of Oakland and other agencies have said a trial was the only way details of the alleged involvement would have been made public. Almena previously spoke to 2 Investigates about why he agreed to the deal. 

“To sit through months of parents looking at burnt remains of their children, it’s not even worth it. But, I’m taking it all on. I know if I take the deal, then it ends,” he said.

Collen Dolan, mother to 33-year-old Marin musician Chelsea Dolan who died in the fire, says for her that statement is far from the truth.

“That does not spare me at all. I have nightmares. Every night I have constant visions of that fire and of Chelsea trapped inside,” she said. “Spared? I have not been spared from anything. If anything, I need to know the details. I need to know what really happened.”

Most of all, Dolan said she’s upset Oakland’s alleged involvement won’t be exposed.

“I have opinions about that, but they’re just opinions because the facts and the details will never come out. Everything thing will be hidden under a rug,” she said.

Oakland was never charged in the criminal case. But, the city has been named in multiple civil lawsuits by Dolan and other families members of Ghost Ship victims. The allegations revolve around accusations the city knew about the warehouse’s dangerous conditions but never conducted a formal inspection to shut it down. Oakland has tried but failed multiple times to get dismissed from the civil cases. 

As part of the plea deal, Almena and Harris pleaded no contest to 36 charges of manslaughter. They will get nine and six years in jail, although both with likely serve less because of good behavior and time already served. 

This story is the first report in a three-part 2 Investigates series looking at Oakland inspections and the larger issue throughout the Bay Area. On Thursday, tune in for our one-on-one with Oakland’s fire chief and new fire marshal. They respond to these concerns and talk about what they’re doing to turn Oakland’s inspection process around.

Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter for KTVU. If you have story or investigation tips, contact her at