Thomas Peele, an investigative reporter and a member of East Hampton High School's class of 1979, has won a 2017 Pulitzer Prize in the Breaking News category for coverage of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, Calif., in which 36 people died.
Mr. Peele led a team of reporters for the East Bay Times that delved into the cause of the December 2016 blaze in a warehouse that had been illegally converted to an art studio and living space, and Oakland officials' failure to make safety inspections of the building. Pulitzer jurors called the team's reporting "relentless" and "exposed the city's failure to take actions that might have prevented it."
"City officials just last month had cited the owner of the warehouse where a deadly fire killed at least nine people late Friday night," Mr. Peele wrote on Dec. 3, hours after the fire, "and had launched an investigation into whether the interior structure was illegal, city records show." He went on to report that a neighbor had filed a complaint less than three weeks before the fire.
He subsequently reported that, two weeks before the blaze, inspectors had been unable to get into the warehouse, which was occupied by an art collective called Ghost Ship.
"The honor of journalism's highest award is both thrilling and humbling," Mr. Peele, who is 55, said in a statement. "I am very proud of our reporting team and we continue to work very hard to shed light on this tragedy and hold government accountable. We have more work to do."
Mr. Peele is a lecturer at the University of California Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where he focuses on public records and freedom of information. He has also worked for Newsday and for newspapers in New Jersey and Delaware. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Long Island University and a Master of Arts degree in writing from the University of San Francisco.
He is also the author of "Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism's Backlash, and the Assassination of a Journalist," about a black Muslim cult and the 2007 assassination, by one of its members, of Chauncey Bailey, editor in chief of The Oakland Post.