Derick Almena, the manager of the Oakland, California warehouse that went up in flames during a weekend party and killed at least 36 people, defended his role as landlord for the building which was used as a residential artist community.
“I’m only here to say one thing: I’m incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together,” he said Tuesday on TODAY during an emotional interview. “People didn’t walk through those doors because it was a horrible place. People didn’t seek us out to perform and express themselves because it was a horrible place.”
Almena said he opened the warehouse to artists that didn’t have space elsewhere and for people who “can’t pay your rent because your dream is bigger than your pocketbook” and needed shelter.
“We created something together. This stopped being me. This stopped being about me three years ago,” he said.
Almena said when he signed a lease, he "got a building that was to city standards supposedly."
The 47-year-old Almena also said he lived in the warehouse with his family just like other residents and defended himself against claims he sought to make profits at the expense of safety.
“This is profit? The loss of mass life? I’m a father. I lay my three children down there every night,” he said, calling himself the “father of this space." “Profit? This is not profit, this is loss. This is a mass grave.”
Almena became increasingly distraught as the interview wore on and began rambling when asked about how his management of the building may have played a role in the fire and the loss of life.
“I didn’t do anything ever in my life that would lead me up to this moment. I’m an honorable man. I’m a proud man,” he said.
“No, I’m not going to answer these questions on this level. I’d rather get on the floor and be trampled by the parents. I’d rather let them tear at my flesh than answer these ridiculous questions. I’m so sorry, I’m incredibly sorry," he said shortly before Matt Lauer thanked him for his time.
Almena has been criticized for checking into a hotel with his partner and their kids the night of the fire. On TODAY, he said he did so only because he knew a party was being planned for that evening and he wanted to avoid the scene.
"Did I know there was going to be a fire? Did I remove my children from the space and get a hotel because I wanted to avoid this, because I wanted to cast blame on other people?" he said. "No, because I wanted to get a good night sleep with my children. I wanted let the young people do what they wanted to do.
"I’m not going to answer these questions the way you’re present presenting them."