R.I. Presses Nightclub Fire Crime Probe - United Press International - February 24, 2003

United Press International
February 24, 2003

WEST WARWICK, R.I., Feb. 24 (UPI) -- The Rhode Island attorney general Monday urged greater cooperation from nightclub owners in his criminal investigation into a deadly fire.

The fire at The Station concert hall in West Warwick Thursday night claimed at least 97 lives and injured more than 180.

'We have to look at everything in its entirety' to determine if a crime occurred, Attorney General Peter Lynch told the New England Cable News Network.

He said his investigators are working as 'quickly as we can' to reach a determination.

He urged more cooperation from the owners of the club, Jeffrey and Michael Derderian.

'They could, I believe, provide information that may assist all of us in making the determination we need to, a determination whether or not a crime has occurred,' Lynch said.

Jeffrey Derderian did answer questions the night of the fire and early the following morning, Lynch said, but his brother has not.

Lynch said Michael was 'out of town' at the time of the fire but 'when he returned he did not answer questions and has not since then.'

'I'm hopeful that they will respond to questions, and I implore them to do just that,' said Lynch, who is considering calling a grand jury to weigh possible criminal charges.

'There are outstanding questions we would like them to respond to,' Lynch said at an earlier news conference.

Lynch said the band that used pyrotechnics that apparently touched off the deadly fire, the Great White, 'has been cooperative.'

At stake are not only potential criminal liability, but also millions of dollars in civil wrongful death and negligence claims that legal experts said are likely to be filed.

A Chicago lawyer involved with the nightclub trampling tragedy in that city last week, Kenneth Moll, said he has already been contacted by some in Rhode Island about a possible class-action suit against The Station and Great White.

'It's clear there's a liability factor here,' Moll told the Providence Journal.

Areas of investigation include whether the band had permission to set off the 'sparklers' and the soundproofing material installed in the club.

The band's lead singer, Jack Russell, and a lawyer for the band said club officials had granted them permission. That was contradicted, however, by Jeff Derderian. He said neither he nor his brother told the band it was okay to use pyrotechnics.

'It was a total shock to see pyrotechnics going off,' Jeff Derderian, who was in the club when the fire started, said in a statement Saturday.

However, the lawyer for Great White, Ed McPherson, said Michael Derderian gave the band's advance man verbal permission to use pyrotechnics about a week before the performance.

State and local officials said there was no permit issued for the use of pyrotechnics.

Lynch also said the history of the use of pyrotechnics at the club is 'one of a number of ingredients we're going to look at.'

Media reports Sunday said other bands that played at the club had used pyrotechnics before and after the Derderians bought the facility in 2000.

Lynch and Gov. Don Carcieri said tests were being made on the type of foam soundproofing material used at the club to see if it was up to code.

The polyurethane foam, if not treated with a fire-retardant, is highly flammable, experts said.

'I want to understand as soon as possible what insulating material is there, because as I understand it, there are different kinds,' the governor said, some of which goes up like gasoline when you put a match to it.

'Because if it was the wrong kind of material,' the governor asked, 'why was it there?'