Memorials begin for 11 people connected with Berkeley who died in Oakland Ghost Ship fire

Highwire Coffee on San Pablo Avenue will be holding a memorial at 4 p, for two employees who died in the Oakland warehouse fire. Donna Kellog is on the left and Em Bohlka is on the right. Photo: Highwire Coffee Facebook page
Highwire Coffee on San Pablo Avenue will hold a memorial at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6, for two employees who died in the Oakland warehouse fire. Donna Kellogg is on the left and Em Bohlka is on the right. Photo: Highwire Coffee

Highwire Coffee at 2049 San Pablo Ave. will hold a memorial at 4 p.m. Tuesday to remember two employees who died in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire on Friday night.

Donna Kellogg, 32, and Em Bohlka, 33, both of Oakland, worked for Highwire, which has stores in Oakland and Berkeley. (Kellogg was also a barista at Flowerland on Solano Avenue). They were among the 36 people who perished when flames ripped through the warehouse that had been converted into an arts space.

“We lost two lovely, vibrant members of the Highwire family to the Ghost Ship fire on Friday,” the company posted on its website. “We’re devastated, and pulling together to support each other in this time of loss.”

The East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest will also hold a memorial for another Berkeley-connected victim of the fire. The festival, which will be held Saturday at the David Brower Center, will commemorate Ara Jo, 29, a visual artist and one of the festival’s main organizers, according to Sharon Coleman, a poet who teaches English at Berkeley City College. She had worked on the festival with Jo in recent years.


Ara Jo, 29, was a visual artist and organizer of the East Bay Alternative Press and Zine Festival. Photo: Ara Jo's Facebook page.
Ara Jo, 29, was a visual artist and organizer of the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest. Photo: Ara Jo

Jo was an “incredible organizer who got things done promptly and well,” said Coleman. “She was so full of energy. ‘Here it is. Let’s get it done. Let’s move it forward.’ She had the commitment and she energized other people to have the same kind of commitment.”

Tomás Moniz, founder of the festival, said Jo was “so welcoming,” which can be rare in the sometimes prickly art world.

“She welcomed everybody and celebrated what they did and that could be infectious,” said Moniz, an author who teaches at Berkeley City College (BCC). He has been on sabbatical this semester so he hadn’t seen Jo recently, he said.

Jo was a visual artist but Moniz said a central part of her art was about connecting with others.

“She was never about herself,” he said. “She was about other artists. That’s why everybody loved her.”


The festival changed its Facebook background picture to one that reads “We love you, Ara Jo,” with angel wings bracketing her name. Organizers will set up a table at the festival where people can make donations to the families who lost someone in the fire, said Coleman. There will also be some sort of public memorial, although she was not sure what form it will take.

The next issue of the Milvia Street Art and Literary Journal, a publication of work by BCC writers, will be dedicated to Jo, others who died in the Ghost Ship fire, and the other BCC artists and writers who died in the past year, said Coleman. It will be published in the next few weeks.

Of the 36 people who have been identified as having died in the blaze, at least 11 have known Berkeley connections. Not all of their deaths have been officially confirmed by the Alameda County coroner’s office, as recovery and identification efforts are still underway.

At least six people with Berkeley ties have been reported missing or deceased after Friday's three-alarm fire in Oakland. They are (from left) Nick Gomez-Hall, David T. Cline and Donna Kellogg; and Vanessa Plotkin, Jenny Morris and Griffin Madden. Gomez-Hall, Cline and Kellogg have been confirmed to have been killed.
Six of the people with Berkeley ties who have been reported missing or deceased after Friday’s three-alarm fire in Oakland include (from left) Nick Gomez-Hall, David Cline and Donna Kellogg; and Vanessa Plotkin, Jenny Morris, and Griffin Madden.

Others with Berkeley connections who were killed when the fire broke out around 11:30 p.m. at the 31st Street warehouse, trapping many on the second floor, include visual artist Jonathan Bernbaum, 34, and Nick Gomez-Hall, 26, who worked at Counterpoint Press in West Berkeley; UC Berkeley alumni Griffin Madden, 23, and David Cline, 24; and current UC Berkeley students Vanessa Plotkin and Jenny Morris, 20, a junior from Foster City.

The city of Oakland also identified one of the dead, Feral Pines, 29, as coming from Berkeley but news reports quote her father as saying she lived in Oakland. Berkeleyside has asked for clarification.


As of Monday, 22 victims had been identified by authorities in Oakland and their families had been notified. Another 11 people had been tentatively identified and three “need scientific identification.”

The city has released 17 names so far, and has said that a 17-year-old boy, the son of an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy, was also killed in the fire.

A photo of Chelsea Faith Dolan as Cherushii, her performance persona. Photo: Cherushii Facebook page.
A photo of Chelsea Faith Dolan as Cherushii, her performance persona. Photo: Cherushii

Chelsea Faith Dolan, 33, a DJ at UC Berkeley’s radio station, KALX, also perished, according to the city of Oakland. She went by the professional name “Cherushii” and was passionate about electronic music, according to Sandra Wasson, KALX’s general manager.

Two of the others who died were also involved with KALX, said Wasson. Plotkin worked in the music department, she said. Madden used to be a DJ, she said. Oakland officials have not formally identified the two as victims, but news media and family members have said they remain missing.

“It is with a heavy heart in the KALX community that we share the loss of Chelsea Faith Dolan (DJ Cherushii) among the deaths confirmed in the warehouse fire in Oakland,” the station posted on its website. “Chelsea was a volunteer with almost 4 years at KALX. We will feel the loss of her vibrant personality, generous heart, and contributions to the station.”

Barrett Clark. Photo: Barrett Clark.
Barrett Clark. Photo: Barrett Clark

Another person with a Berkeley connection was Barrett Clark, a freelance sound engineer from Oakland who did the in-house engineering for Amoeba Music stores in Berkeley and San Francisco. Clark was a talented and generous engineer who was always willing to help musicians, according to Ray Ortega, who does the PR and marketing for Amoeba.

“He was always my first pick,” said Ortega. “I have a list of sound engineers I can call, but (I liked) his friendliness, his professionalism. He was one of the nicest and friendliest guys.”

Clark was considered the top sound guy for electronic and industrial music. In addition to freelancing at Amoeba, Clark did the sound for bigger venues, including The Independent and the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, which set up a memorial page for him. Ortega said no one at Amoeba knows if Clark was just attending the show or was helping with the sound when the fire broke out. Two Amoeba employees were at the party as well, but they were outside smoking cigarettes when the blaze began. They told Ortega they got lost trying to find the exit — and this was before the lights went out and the flames erupted.

The city of Oakland has not officially released his name yet.

Today Show interview provides glimpse into Ghost Ship fire

On Tuesday, the man who rented out the warehouse and converted the second floor into a fantastical space with wooden walls, wooden objects, carpets, and lights — all of which added to the flammability of the space, which was not designed for residential living — spoke to the Today show. Derick Ion Almena, 47, was clearly upset when Matt Lauer interviewed him, and asked if he assumed responsibility for the deadly inferno. At a certain point, he said he was not going to answer any more questions.

Almena, who lived in the space with his wife and three children but who had taken a hotel room on Friday night, did not answer directly. But he did apologize and express grief, two emotions that seemed to be missing from a Facebook post he made the morning of the fire. He has said he did not know there were any deaths when he posted on Facebook.

Derick Almena's post on Facebook upset many people after the fire.
Derick Almena’s post on Facebook upset many people after the fire.

“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. “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.”

“I’m only here to say one thing: that I am incredibly sorry, and that everything I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together.”

“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.

Matt Lauer then thanked him for his time and ended the interview.

Those who want to donate to help families of those affected by the fire can donate to the Alameda County Disaster Relief Fund.

See updates about the fire from the city of Oakland on its website.

Related:
Remembering David Cline: ‘A ferociously brilliant student and impossibly bright mind’ (12.05.16)
Beloved ‘VJ’ and BHS alum killed in Oakland fire; LA vigil planned for Jonathan Bernbaum (12.05.16)
3 with Berkeley ties dead, 3 reported missing in Oakland fire (12.014.16)

Have a question about a local public safety incident? Write to crime@berkeleyside.com. Photographs and videos are always appreciated. A section about Barrett Clark was added after publication.

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