The man who ran the Oakland warehouse where 36 people died Friday night was contentious and defensive Tuesday morning as he appeared near the scene of the blaze in an early morning live interview on “The Today Show.”
“I’m only here to say I’m incredibly sorry,” said Derick Almena during the interview as he repeatedly dodged questions about the fire.
Alema, 46, lived in the “Ghost Ship” art space and warehouse with his wife and children and was the leaseholder of the building, and said in so many words that he didn’t believe the facility was a danger.
“We put our children to bed there every night,” he said.
He refused to answer many of the direct questions asked by the show’s two hosts, but instead said he was appearing on television to “put his face and body” at the scene. Almena said he’d rather “lay on the floor and be trampled by the parents” than continue to answer the show host’s questions.
“The family members of those who were were lost want answers, they want to know who should be held accountable for the loss of their loved ones. Are you the man who should be held accountable?” said Matt Lauer from a studio in New York.
“What am I gonna say to that?” Almena responded.
Instead of answering the questions about the warehouse’s safety, he focused on the warehouse’s purpose: a place for art, music, youths and the LGBT community.
Three years ago he said he signed a lease on the building, which had to be constantly fixed but he refused to talk about allegations posted by the show’s hosts that he made a profit on the building and refused to pay for upkeep.
“People didn’t walk through those doors because it was a horrible place. People did not seek us out to perform and express themselves because it was a horrible place,” said Almena.
The short interview ended after Almena continued to go on about how the focus on his interview should be to mourn, not cast blame.
One former resident, who was only identified to the San Francisco Examiner as Sam, said Almena knew the warehouse needed better electrical work. Additionally, the situation was chaotic for the two months Sam spent there.
“It was noisy all the time and the place was waiting to kill somebody,” said Sam, who has lived in other Oakland warehouses. “I have absolutely no doubt it was an electrical fire. I have no doubt it was preventable.”
The 11:30 p.m. fire tore through the warehouse which was hosting a techno dance party. While many escaped from the fire, including Alema and his family who were in a hotel that night so they could sleep away from the noise, dozens did not. Authorities have since been searching the site for bodies and launched a criminal investigation.