Ghost Ship verdict

Sep 6, 2019

Jury acquits one defendant, deadlocks on second in warehouse fire that killed 36


LA Times's JAMES QUEALLY: "The two men accused of turning an Oakland warehouse into an arts collective that became the site of one of the deadliest blazes in California history avoided criminal punishment Thursday, marking a stinging defeat for prosecutors and the victims’ families after a years-long battle over who was truly responsible for the 2016 Ghost Ship fire."


"A Bay Area jury acquitted Max Harris, the warehouse’s 29-year-old self-described “creative director,” of 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the roaring blaze. The same jury could not reach a verdict on charges against Derick Almena, 49, the warehouse’s property manager who had become the public face of the tragedy."


"Ten jurors voted to convict Almena, but two others called for an acquittal. If convicted, both men would have faced 36 years in state prison. It was not immediately clear if prosecutors would attempt to retry Almena."


READ MORE related to Ghost Ship Fire: Max Harris walks out of jail after acquittal; Derick Almena remains jailed after mistrial -- The Chronicle's MEGAN CASSIDY/SARAH RAVANI/MATTHIAS GAFNI


California dive boat owner quickly asks judge to limit payouts to victims' families


LA Times's RICHARD WINTON/MATT HAMILTON/LEILA MILLER: "The owners of the California diving boat that burned during a Labor Day weekend charter near Santa Barbara, killing 34 people aboard, have turned to a 19th-century maritime law to argue they should not have to pay any money to the families of victims."


"In their petition filed Thursday, attorneys for the owners Truth Aquatics Inc., Glen Fritzler and his wife, Dana, cite an 1851 statute in asking a judge to eliminate their financial liability or lower it to an amount equal to the post-fire value of the boat, or $0."


"The Conception ignited early on Sept. 2, burned for hours and sank near the Channel Islands. It is now worthless, according to the Fritzlers’ federal court filing in the Central District of California."


READ MORE related to Dive Boat Disaster: Early investigation of boat fire suggests serious safety flaws aboard vessel where 34 died -- LA Times' RICHARD WINTON/MARK PUENTE/MATT HAMILTON; Conception crew member awoke to noise, found flames engulfing dive boat, authorities say -- The Chronicle's LAUREN HERNANDEZ


LeBron James wants college athletes to get paid. Will California pass a law to make it happen?


Sacramento Bee's BRYAN ANDERSON: "King James is throwing his might behind a California bill that would pave the way for college athletes to get paid."


"NBA superstar LeBron James gave a major boost to a proposed law that would allow students to get paid for their name, image and likeness. James considers it a “GAME CHANGER."


"College athletes can responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create,” James wrote on Twitter Thursday morning, urging his followers to call California lawmakers to express their support of the measure."


California's likely voters: They're older, richer and whiter


The Chronicle's JOHN WILDERMUTH: "California’s voter registration numbers are soaring, but the people most likely to cast ballots remain older, richer, more educated and whiter than the state as a whole."


"Despite the gains in registering new voters, we have a long way to go before the likely voters look like California,” said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, which analyzed the state’s voter demographics in a newly released report."


"The study, which is based on the institute’s polling of more than 14,000 California voters in the past year, found that while whites make up 42% of California adults, they are 58% of the likely voters. Latinos are 35% of the state’s adults, but just 19% of likely voters."


Layoffs planned after fire tax fails in rural California -- on same day firefighters are injured


Sacramento Bee's RYAN SABALOW: "The same day two of their firefighters were nearly killed when their engine was destroyed by a wildfire, El Dorado County property owners rejected a parcel tax that would have kept one of them on the payroll."


"Fifty-four percent of the 1,067 voters in the Garden Valley Fire Protection District voted “no” to raise their parcel taxes and keep three of the six district firefighters from receiving layoff notices, said Chief Clive Savacool."


"Voters’ mail-in ballots were being counted Tuesday as two Garden Valley firefighters were hurt battling the 85-acre Country Fire northeast of the town of Cool. The front of their fire engine was nearly melted to slag."


California vaccine bill supporters and critics are baffled by Newsom's sudden changes


LA Times's MELODY GUTIERREZ/TARYN LUNA: "Gov. Gavin Newsom’s effort to change legislation that would tighten immunization rules for California schoolchildren could prompt a rush for new vaccine exemptions, revisions that go far beyond what his advisors have insisted would be nothing more than a “technical” tweaking of the proposal."


"The governor’s 11th hour demands — which could reduce or eliminate the number of existing vaccine exemptions that would be scrutinized by state officials — were made just days before the Legislature adjourns for the year, creating confusion and new conflict at the state Capitol. And they have done little to temper passions on both sides of the debate: Vaccine critics are now more hopeful that Newsom will reject any effort to crack down on exemptions, while supporters of the bill are concerned that the governor is sending mixed messages about the state’s commitment to ensuring the vast majority of children are vaccinated before attending public schools."


"Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the UC Hastings College of Law who studies vaccine policies, said the fact that Newsom earlier pledged to sign the legislation has only added to uncertainty over the bill."


This pro-choice, Mexico-embracing mayor could be California GOP's future


The Chronicle's JOE GAROFOLI: "Kevin Faulconer is the pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage, climate-change acknowledging, Mexico-embracing, Spanish-speaking mayor of San Diego who didn’t vote for President Trump."


"In other words, he’s the embodiment of everything the California Republican Party isn’t."


"The other big difference between Faulconer and many of his fellow California Republicans: He gets elected. Twice now, in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1."


Tehama County fire explodes to 5,000 acres, evacuations ordered, air attack underway


Sacramento Bee's RYAN SABALOW/TONY BIZJAK/CAROLINE GHISOLFI: "A 5,000-acre wildfire erupted west of the Tehama County community of Red Bluff Thursday afternoon, and it chewed its way north through heavy brush, prompting evacuations of rural homes and ranches as it sent up a massive plume of smoke visible for miles."


"Fire crews have ordered mandatory evacuations for the Red Bank Oaks subdivision and houses on the stretch from Pettyjohn Road in Red Bluff to the U.S. Forest Service boundary."


"There was a heck of a lot of smoke up there, it’s burning very quickly,” Cal Fire spokesperson Scott McLean told The Bee in an evening update. “We’re hoping that winds will die down tonight and cooler weather will come in tomorrow, but the fire will certainly continue to spread overnight."


Confusion, delays as videos replace interpreters at immigrants' hearings


The Chronicle's TAL KOPAN: "The Trump administration has been slow to implement its new policy replacing in-person interpreters with informational videos at immigrants’ initial hearings, but the switch is causing delays and confusion where it has been introduced, including in San Francisco, observers say."


"The Justice Department informed immigration judges in late June that it would replace in-person interpreters at the first court appearance for immigrants facing deportation with videos advising them of their rights. The switchover began in July."


"So far, the policy has been rolled out to courts in just four cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and New York."


American Airlines mechanic accused of sabotaging flight over stalled labor talks


AP: "An American Airlines mechanic is accused of sabotaging a flight over stalled union contract negotiations."


"According to an affidavit from a federal air marshal assigned to an FBI terrorism task force, Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani admitted during an interview Thursday that he tampered with a navigation system on the plane so that he could collect overtime work."


"The plane, with 150 people on board, was scheduled to fly from Miami to Nassau in the Bahamas on July 17. As the pilots powered up the plane at Miami International Airport, they saw an error message for a system that tracks speed, nose direction and other critical flight information, and aborted the takeoff."


A giant mass of warm water off the Pacific Coast could rival 'the blob' of 2014-15


LA Times's DEBORAH NETBURN: "A large and unusually warm mass of water is threatening to disturb the marine ecosystem along the Pacific Coast from Southern California to Alaska, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday."


"They call it the Northeast Pacific Marine Heatwave of 2019, and if it doesn’t dissipate soon, researchers said it could be as destructive as the infamous “blob” of warm water that caused massive toxic algae blooms along the coast and wreaked havoc on whales, salmon, baby sea lions and other marine life in 2014 and 2015."


"Really, only time will tell if this feature will persist and if it will rival the past event in duration and impact,” said Andrew Leising, a research oceanographer at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla."


Juul sharing customer info with PR firm to find vaping 'success stories'


The Chronicle's CATHERINE HO: "San Francisco vaping company Juul is sharing customer data with a Washington public relations and political strategy firm that is using the information to contact Juul users and urge them to share personal testimonials about Juul helping them switch from cigarettes to vaping."


"The firm, Locust Street Group, has been emailing and calling Juul customers in New York, where lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes like the popular fruit-flavored Juul pods."


“I’m reaching out to you on behalf of Juul Labs, who has contracted with Locust Street to support its services and collect success stories from New Yorkers who have made the switch to Juul from combustible cigarettes,” read one email, cited in a story reported earlier by Buzzfeed News. “We received your information as a Juul user from Juul Labs and we are only using this contact information to support our services on behalf of the company and to discuss your ‘switch story.’"


Sacramento agrees to pay $2.4M to Stephon Clark's sons, court filings say


Sacramento Bee's SAM STANTON/MOLLY SULLIVAN: "The city of Sacramento has agreed to pay out $2.4 million to the children of Stephon Clark to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by his family after police shot the unarmed black man in March 2018, according to newly filed court documents."


"The settlement, which comes after the family initially sought $20 million from a lawsuit filed in federal court in Sacramento, is spelled out in court documents that describe the outcome of negotiations the two sides had in June in a closed session in federal court."


"Although court documents revealed at the time that a settlement had been reached, the amount was not revealed until court documents were filed late Wednesday seeking the creation of trust accounts for the children and legal fees for their attorneys."


READ MORE related to Prisons & Public Safety: Former LA sheriff's deputy pleads no contest to inmate sexual assaults -- AP; Family claims daughter held in SF juvenile hall for 11 days despite release order -- The Chronicle's JOAQUIN PALOMINO


Trump's tariffs made California's housing crisis worse: A 'perfect storm of the wrong kind'


McClatchy's KATE IRBY: "President Donald Trump’s tariffs have created the “perfect storm” at the wrong moment for the housing industry, California builders say."


"The California Building Industry Association estimates tariffs have driven up the cost of an average-size new home by $20,000 to $30,000."


"That comes from tariffs on appliances, certain counter tops and other miscellaneous items that “at the end of the day, really add up,” according to Dennis Fitzpatrick, owner of Fitzpatrick Homes in Modesto."


Homeless people were pushed from BART stations. Now they're riding the trains


The Chronicle's RACHEL SWAN: "Homeless ridership on BART trains has surged in recent months, even as the transit agency has tried to keep its stations from turning into de facto shelters."


"More than twice as many apparently homeless people are riding trains on weekends as in 2018, according to newly obtained agency records. The number of homeless people riding trains on weekdays is up nearly 50%."


"The data suggests we’re moving them out of stations and onto trains,” said Debora Allen, a member of BART’s Board of Directors."


READ MORE related to Homelessness: Homeless California college students can't sleep on campus. Lawmaker pulls housing crisis bill -- Sacramento Bee's ANDREW SHEELER

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