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Ghost Ship Trial Witness Dies In Weekend Car Crash; Defense Objects To Emotional Testimony

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- A witness for the prosecution in the Ghost Ship trial who was scheduled to testify later this week died over the weekend in a car crash, according to prosecutors.

One of the prosecuting attorneys made the announcement Monday afternoon that former tenant Robert Jacobitz was killed in a car accident in San Pablo on Sunday. According to multiple reports, Jacobitz had done some of the electrical work at the Ghost Ship Warehouse.

There were no additional details available regarding the circumstances of the crash that killed Jacobitz.

KPIX reporter Juliette Goodrich tweeted about the announcement shortly before 4 p.m.

Earlier Monday, the mother of Ghost Ship fire victim Nicole Siegrist took the stand Monday over the objections of a defense attorney as testimony got underway at the trial of two men charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deadly blaze.

Tyler Smith, one of two lawyers for Ghost Ship creative director Max Harris, had asked Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson that Carol Cidlik, Siegrist's mother, not be allowed to testify as the prosecution's first witness. He claimed her emotional testimony would impact the jury.

Smith had filed a motion, saying: "The danger of undue prejudice (against Harris and co-defendant Derick Almena in jurors' minds) is extremely high and vastly outweighs any probative value that Ms. Cidlik's testimony might provide."

Thompson allowed Cidlik to testify how she received a text from her daughter as flames raced through the warehouse on the night of Dec. 2, 2016 saying simply "I'm going to die."

Harris, 29, and Almena, 49, are charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the fire during a illegal music party at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. in December 2016. It was the deadliest fire in Oakland history and in the United States since 2003.

Alameda County prosecutors and lawyers for Harris and Almena presented their opening statements in the high-profile case on last Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Friday, Smith also asked Judge Thompson not to allow fire survivor Samuel Maxwell to testify.

Smith said Maxwell was in a coma for five weeks after the fire, spent four more months in the hospital, is now confined to a wheelchair, requires care around the clock and relies on his mother to interpret what he is saying. Maxwell is scheduled to testify later this month.

Bates said in his opening statement that Almena and Harris are criminally liable for the fire because there was no time and no way for the people at the party to escape since the warehouse didn't have important safeguards, such as fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and exit sign

A jury of nine women and three men will determine Almena and Harris' fate.

Thompson believes prosecutors may finish presenting their case by late May, at which time the defense would begin presenting its case.

She loosely estimates that the trial will take a total of several months but in case it lasts longer than that she has already scheduled breaks in the case in late August and in October to accommodate the schedules of the parties in the case.

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