California utility sued by warehouse fire victim relatives
Relatives of 18 of the 36 people who died in Oakland's "Ghost Ship" warehouse fire added California's Pacific Gas & Electric utility on Tuesday as a defendant in their wrongful death lawsuits. They claimed the company should have known the warehouse's electrical hookups were hazardous and illegally installed.
Authorities have not disclosed what caused the Dec. 2 fire but have said they are investigating electrical causes. PG&E was added as a defendant to a "master complaint" lawsuit that combined the 18 separate lawsuits into one, lawyers for those relatives said.
PG&E "contributed to this fire and horrible loss of life," attorney Mary Alexander said. "It's not about deep pockets, it's about culpability."
The company responded in a statement that it had no reports of electrical theft or problems "or any other anomalies from this location or the adjacent premises."
It added that the utility is cooperating with authorities investigating the fire and "can say that our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims of this tragic event."
The lawsuits consolidated in Alameda County Superior Court also claimed that the building's owner, Chor Nar Siu Ng, and the building's leaseholder, Derick Almena were responsible for the fire and deaths.
Ng's phone went answered Tuesday and Almena did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
Almena organized the Dec. 2 concert and charged an entrance fee. He and his family also lived in the warehouse and sublet living to space to several self-described artists. The warehouse was not licensed for entertainment or residency.
The lawsuit claims the warehouse was a cluttered firetrap and that the owner and leaseholder negligently ignored safety hazards.
"I don't have any fantasies this will bring back my baby," said Leisa Askew, the mother of 22-year-old Pash Askew, who died in the fire. "But 36 people died and that is so wrong. Someone needs to be held accountable."
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said in an interview Monday that she is still investigating whether criminal charges should be filed against anyone in connection with the fire.
Oakland city records show neighbors, residents and visitors repeatedly complained about the warehouse to city officials — citing safety problems, loud parties and other issues with the dilapidated building converted illegally into a living area.
Firefighters and other city officials also were called to the property and adjacent buildings. No citations were ever issued.
PG&E was convicted in August of by a federal of violating pipeline safety regulations in connection with a natural gas explosion seven years that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in the city of San Bruno south of San Francisco. Regulators also fined PG&E $1.6 billion.