The family of a South San Francisco student who died in the Ghost Ship fire is suing those believed to be responsible for allowing the deadly conditions fueling the massive fatal blaze in Oakland.
Michela Gregory’s relatives are seeking damages from the building owner and manager of the warehouse turned artist collective where 36 people were killed in a devastating inferno Dec. 2.
Attorney Mary Alexander, who filed Friday, Dec. 23, the first lawsuits after the fire on behalf of the Gregory family and another victim’s family, said she believes those who oversaw the property put the motive for profit ahead of their regard for safety.
“The place was a death trap,” said Alexander. “People couldn’t get out. Michela couldn’t get out.”
The lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court names building owner Chor Ng, as well as property manager Derick Almena, the party promoter and artists who performed a concert the night of the fire and the proprietor of the business next door where electricity was being sapped to power the Ghost Ship. The suit does not identify a specific amount of money sought by the Gregory family. Both Ng and Almena have hired attorneys as well.
“They put profit over people,” said Alexander. “They would take rent and have the place rented out for music events. That was their incentive and they disregarded that they didn’t have a permit to do this.”
The lawsuit also identifies the city of Oakland and Alameda County as responsible parties because the facility had not undergone a safety or code inspection in many years.
Gregory, 20, was found in the rubble hugging her 22-year-old boyfriend Alex Vega, of San Bruno.
“He was trying to protect her,” said Alexander.
Gregory graduated from South San Francisco High School and was attending San Francisco State University. Vega graduated from Capuchino High School in San Bruno, and has been remembered by a school counselor as quiet, creative and kind. Foster City resident and San Mateo High School graduate Jenny Morris died in the fire too. Alexander is representing the family of victim Griffin Madden as well.
Gregory had been living with parents, who are still struggling to process the challenge of coping with the death of their daughter, said Alexander.
“This has been so hard for them; the loss of this beautiful, smart girl in such a senseless and preventable fire that should have never happened,” she said. “It has been very hard for them to come to grips with the fact that she is never coming home.”
Online crowdsourcing fundraisers benefitting the Gregory family have received more than $18,000.
Gregory was among those partying on the second floor of the converted warehouse and makeshift residence in Oakland’s Fruitvale district when the blaze broke out.
She could not escape the fire as the jury-rigged staircase designed from wooden pallets collapsed and trapped revelers upstairs where they were overtaken by smoke and flames, said Alexander.
Alexander said unfit conditions were rife with opportunity for tragedy.
“There was no fire alarm. No smoke alarms. No lights. No way to escape this inferno. … They couldn’t have built a more flammable place. There was the kindling, the wiring and even a gas stove. I couldn’t imagine a more reckless form of negligence to put people in a situation where they couldn’t escape,” she said.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has launched a criminal investigation into whether charges should be filed against Almena, Ng or others responsible for the facility and operations. Electrical issues have been identified by inspectors as a likely source of the fire.
For her part, Alexander said she hopes the lawsuits begin to offer some accountability to those who are left mourning in the wake of the fire now recognized as Oakland’s most deadly ever.
“It’s such a terrible loss and they want justice,” she said.
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