The potential for a criminal case relating to the December 2 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland has just grown bigger as emails surface that show that the landlords knew of electrical problems at the building years before the deadly fire. The East Bay Times reports that members of the Ng family, who have owned the property for more than 25 years, were aware of both inadequate electrical infrastructure in the building and of an electrical fire that had occurred several years ago.
It's been reported previously that the Ghost Ship building got all of its electrical power from a hole punched in the wall in the rear of the building, and wires coming from the building next door, an auto body shop also owned by Chor Ng. The East Bay Times has delved into the story of a series of electrical upgrades that were made by two subtenants beginning in 2014 following a transformer fire that was apparently caused by overloading and inadequate wiring that was not up to code.
Former tenant Ben Cannon, 36, occupied a space on the other side of the auto body shop in 2014 and emails and invoices that he sent to Kai Ng, who managed the properties for his mother, have now surfaced from between December 2014 and January 2015. In the emails Cannon described replacing a "tiny" transformer that "went up in flames" in a crawl space above the adjacent cell phone store, and recommending that a second transformer be installed. Cannon appears to have had a contractor's license back in 2008, but was not licensed to do electrical work in the state of California.
He says that he never performed any work in the Ghost Ship property itself, and the email exchanges indicate that the Ngs balked at bills for $15,000 to $32,000 for electrical work they say they did not authorize. Cannon's first invoice, the larger of the two following the installation of the new transformer, was submitted almost two years to the day prior to the fire, on December 3, 2014.
Another email exchange obtained by the paper shows Ghost Ship tenant Derrick Almena asking Kai Ng for upgrades to the electrical system in February 2015, saying that the electricity coming through the adjacent buildings was doing so through "ancient and violated lines of distribution" that were in "dire need of a total and immediate upgrade."
Kai Ng responded two days later saying, "The lack of electrical infrastructure was made very clear before your lease began."
One legal expert spoke to the East Bay Times and suggested that the Ngs' awareness of the problem opens the door for possible involuntary manslaughter charges, or potentially second-degree murder charges.