Some closure has been brought to those affected by the second, recent building fire in the Oakland area as officials announced the name of the fourth and final victim of the blaze, a Nigerian man who studied mathematics and computer sciences in the U.S. The road to resolution is long, however, for approximately 100 building residents who were left homeless, and for those left to wonder why the West Oakland building fire wasn't avoided in the first place.
Victim Had Studied at University of Cincinnati Before Mental Illness Struggle
After using fingerprints for identification and tracking down the victim’s father in Nigeria, the Alameda County Coroner has released the name of the fourth victim in the West Oakland building fire. He was 36-year-old Olatunde Adejumobi, and he was living in the building with the assistance of Urojas Community Services, a nonprofit and master tenant in the building that aided those with mental health and substance abuse issues. Adejumobi struggled with mental illness and had been living in the building for about three years.
|Photo Credit: KTVU News|
Before he found his way to 2551 San Pablo Avenue, Nigerian Adejumobi had studied at the University of Cincinnati, where, in 2004, he left in the summer before his senior year to participate in a National Science Foundation program at UC Berkeley. Though Adejumobi returned to Cincinnati, he did not complete his degree.
Fourth Victim In Deadly Oakland Apartment Fire Was 36-Year-Old Nigerian Man https://t.co/6bqgTvkEMo— Nigeria News (@NigeriaNewsNG) April 10, 2017
One of Adejumobi's landlords in Cincinnati, Louis Peerless, remembered him as being a "really nice guy" who would write math formulas on notebooks and keep to himself. Peerless also noted that it was clear Adejumobi was facing challenges with his mental health.
Adejumobi left Cincinnati without a word to Peerless, but he heard through others that Adejumobi had said he was headed to San Francisco to look for his wife. In his time on San Pablo Avenue, Adejumobi was known for his love of painting, his intelligence, and his difficulty making friends.
"His life just didn’t give him what it was looking for," Urojas co-director Rev. Aurea Lewis said in an interview with SFGate. "I just never understood quite what happened."
Officials say Adejumobi died of smoke inhalation.
All Victims Now Identified
With Adejumobi's identification, officials have now identified all four of the victims whose lives were taken in the West Oakland building fire.
While little has been released about 41-year-old Ashantikee Wilson, it's believed that she was Adejumboi's roommate in room 223.
Fifty-year-old Cassandra Robertson was the mother of two daughters, aged 22 and 17, and was known in the building for walking her Yorkshire terrier, Brees, in the mornings. When she 19, Robertson moved to the Bay Area from New Orleans, and four years ago she went back to Louisiana. After recently moving back to Oakland, Robertson had decided to stay until her youngest daughter graduated high school.
LeAndre Johnson, Robertson’s husband, returned to San Pablo Avenue with his brother Tywon Lee to mourn Robertson. Speaking with ABC7News, Lee recalled Robertson’s communication from inside the burning building through a phone call to her mother.
"Cassandra said the dog is dead, she’s trapped, there’s too much smoke and she can’t get out," Lee said.
Sixty-four-year-old Edwarn Anderson was known throughout the building for being kind and helpful. He was eager to help others and worked to maintain the building as much as he could. In an interview with SFGate, second-floor resident Karen Redus remembered Anderson fondly.
"He was the nice guy around the building," Redus said. "If I needed somebody to talk to, I’d talk to him."
West Oakland Building Fire Linked to Safety Violations
The blaze at 2551 San Pablo Avenue was determined to have been started by a candle. Marcelio Harris lived on the second floor next door to the unit where he believes the fire was started.
"The guy’s lights went out and we gave him a big flashlight…but he went and did some candles. The candles fell over and so when the fire started, it was on like a blanket," Harris said in an interview with KTVU. Officials have since interviewed the person who lit the candle.
While the candle may have been the cause, the building has a lengthy history of safety violations and inspections that discovered dangerous conditions.
Back in September of 2015, a firefighter responded to a call at the building and noticed hazardous conditions. Wishing to refer the information to the Oakland Fire Prevention Bureau, he checked a box in the Fire Department software program, OneStep, and assumed the information had been relayed. Unknown to the firefighter, the system—which has been criticized by officials—cannot complete such referrals, and the box is only there to record that a referral has been made by phone or through another method. In the last five years, the city had received 18 complaints about the property, including electrical issues and structural deficits.
As recently as three days before the West Oakland building fire, officials were documenting safety flaws in the building. Fire inspectors who conducted an inspection recorded the lack of fire extinguishers, smoke detectors in every apartment, clearly marked exits, and a properly working fire sprinkler system, among other violations. Tragically, the inspection was only able to highlight the conditions that contributed to the fatal fire. Residents say that no sprinkler system was activated as they fled to safety and that they did not hear fire alarms.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced on March 31, 2017, that Oakland’s fire safety inspection program would be overhauled and that the size of the fire prevention bureau would be doubled.
Landlord Releases Statement
On April 6, 2017, Keith Kim, the owner of the building set ablaze in the West Oakland building fire, issued his first statement since the fire.
"We are in shock at this tragedy," the written statement released by spokesman Sam Singer said. The statement went on to say that Kim was "heartbroken" and then addressed the battle between himself and Urojas over his attempted eviction of the nonprofit as the master tenant. Kim said he was trying to evict Urojas over a water bill that had not been paid for three years, while Urojas had gone to an attorney to fight back, stating that Kim was not attempting to fix the appalling conditions at the building and that he was using the tragic Oakland Ghost Ship fire as a reason to remove them.
Though the Ghost Ship fire in December resulted in weeks of investigation, Kim's building has already been returned to him and workers he has hired are at work removing damaged areas of the structure.