Families Make Plans to Bury Nightclub Victims as Efforts Intensify to Determine Who’s to Blame - Worldlink.com - Associated Press - February 26, 2003
By: Denise Lavoie
Worldlink.com - Associated Press
February 26, 2003
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - As grief-stricken families made arrangements to bury their loved ones, members of the band whose pyrotechnics apparently sparked a nightclub inferno returned to Rhode Island to testify before a grand jury that will try to determine if anyone should be held responsible for the blaze.
The panel was to convene Wednesday - the same day the first wave of funerals for the 97 victims gets under way. Members of the rock band Great White who have been subpoenaed were expected to testify Wednesday, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
Flames swept through the West Warwick nightclub within minutes last week. Great White guitarist Ty Longley was among those killed.
'We're just devastated by the loss. It's a devastating situation,' bass player David Filice said after arriving at the airport in Warwick late Tuesday. He would not comment on the investigation.
The four surviving band members had returned to the Los Angeles area a few days after the fire. The band has said it received approval to use the special effects, but the owners of the club, the Station, have denied giving permission.
An attorney for the club's owners, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, didn't return calls seeking comment Tuesday, and the attorney general's office declined to comment on the issue.
Legal experts and fire investigators said the Derderians and members of the band could be indicted on such state charges as involuntary manslaughter or second-degree murder. And a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Providence says federal charges haven't been ruled out.
'It is pretty obvious that there was some joint responsibility. Maybe the issue is not which one to charge, but what to charge both with,' said Donald Bliss, state fire marshal for New Hampshire and the president of the National Association of State Fire Marshals.
Nearly a week after the blaze, recovery teams with search dogs returned to the charred ruins of the nightclub Tuesday to look for bodies that may have been missed. Gov. Don Carcieri said there was a discrepancy between the number of people reported missing and the number of victims found. So far, 93 of the 97 bodies have been identified.
More than 180 people were also injured in the fire; about 60 of them were still in hospitals, including 39 in critical condition.
Attorney General Patrick Lynch has said he does not believe the Derderians have cooperated with investigators, but spokesman Mike Healey said Tuesday, 'We're not pitting the band against the Derderians.'
The attorney general's office indicated that Mary Jo Carolan, the president of Triton Limited Realty Partnership, would be subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, an attorney for the realty group said. Triton leased the nightclub to the Derderians.
In Florida, promoter Tim Clark, who claims Great White used fireworks without permission at a Feb. 7 concert in Pinellas Park, said Tuesday he was interviewed at his home by officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Late Tuesday, the band's attorney told CNN that, a week before the show in West Warwick, tour manager Dan Biechele got permission from one of the club owners to use the pyrotechnics there.
Biechele 'asked specific permission from Mike Derderian to use these particular special effects. Mike Derderian gave that permission, and so they were used,' attorney Ed McPherson said.
Attorney Edward Ryan Jr., who represented a homeless man charged with manslaughter in a 1999 fire that killed six Worcester, Mass., firefighters, said the grand jury could find the club owners and the band committed 'affirmative acts' that caused the deaths - the band by using pyrotechnics without a permit, and the Derderians by failing to make sure no fire hazards were present.
Ryan cited reports that pyrotechnics had been used in the club by other bands.
'If they had 70 shows in the last three years and 35 of those involved pyrotechnics of some sort, that leads to a fair inference that they knew of or should have known what was going on in their club,' Ryan said.
'But clearly, whoever set up that display - the band - is a potential target, whether they had permission or not.'
Meanwhile, Chicago attorney Kenneth Moll says he's been contacted by relatives of the nightclub victims and is putting together his own investigation.
'We'll look at the contractor and the architectural plans,' he said. 'Also, we're looking at the past failed inspections. There are some there and the city might be culpable.'