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The 2003 Station nightclub fire

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Vixen
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« on: July 15, 2007, 08:35:42 pm »



The Station Nightclub Fire on the evening of Thursday, February 20, 2003, was the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history, killing 100 people and injuring more than 200. Ninety-six perished on the night of the fire, and four died later from their injuries at local hospitals. The Station, which regularly hosted glam metal and 80s rock bands, was a nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island.
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Vixen
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« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2007, 08:37:42 pm »



Screenshot of the Butler video, showing the beginnings of the fire

The fire

The fire started about 11:08 PM, just seconds into headlining band Great White's opening song "Desert Moon", when pyrotechnics set off by their tour manager, Daniel Biechele, lit flammable soundproofing foam behind the stage. The flames were first thought to be part of the act; only as the fire reached the ceiling and smoke began to billow did people realize it was uncontrolled. Only 20 seconds after the pyrotechnics ended, the band stopped playing, and lead singer, Jack Russell, remarked into the microphone, "Wow... this ain't good." In less than a minute, the entire stage was engulfed in flames. Although there were four possible exits, most people naturally headed for the door through which they entered. The ensuing stampede in the inferno led to a crush in the hallway leading to that main entrance, eventually blocking it completely and resulting in numerous deaths and injuries among the patrons and staff, who numbered somewhat more than 404, the highest of three conflicting official capacity limits. Of those in attendance, roughly one quarter died (either from burns or smoke inhalation), and half were injured. Among those who perished in the fire was Great White's lead guitarist, Ty Longley.

The pyrotechnics were gerbs, cylindrical devices intended to produce a controlled spray of sparks. Gerbs are labeled using two numbers: one for how far the sparks fly and one for how long the effect lasts. Biechele was fond of using 15 by 15's, which spray sparks 15 feet for 15 seconds. Three of that same caliber, at 45-degree angles, with the middle one pointing straight up, were the kind used that night. Gerbs are considered appropriate for indoor use before a nearby audience when proper precautions are observed.

An NIST investigation of the fire, using computer simulations and a mock-up of the stage area and dance floor, concluded that a sprinkler system would have successfully contained the fire enough to give everyone time to get out safely. However, due to its age (built in the late 1930s) and size (4,484 square feet (404 mē)), the Station was believed by many to be exempt from sprinkler system requirements. In actuality, it had undergone an occupancy change when it was converted from a restaurant to a nightclub. This change dissolved its exemption from the law, a fact that West Warwick fire inspectors never noticed. On the night in question, the Station was legally required to have a sprinkler system, but did not.

Also the blueprints show that the entryway to the nightclub had a ramp which blocked off a straight exitway through the door. When exiting the building, one would have to exit either right or left because the building was constructed to lead two entry ways with the handrail running parallel with the building.

The events that occurred during the fire were caught on videotape by cameraman Brian Butler for WPRI-TV of Providence and the beginning of it was released to national news stations. Later, the video would circulate via file sharing online. He was there, ironically, for a planned piece on nightclub safety being reported by Jeffrey Derderian, a WPRI news reporter who is also a part-owner of The Station. WPRI-TV would be cited for an ethics violation for having a reporter do a report concerning his own property. The report had been inspired by the Chicago nightclub stampede that had claimed 21 lives only four days earlier. At the scene of the fire, Butler gave this understandably-agitated account of the tragedy:
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Vixen
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« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2007, 08:38:48 pm »



Brian Butler recounting the astonishing rapidity of the fire

“ ...It was that fast. As soon as the pyrotechnics stopped, the flame had started on the egg crate backing behind the stage, and it just went up the ceiling. And people stood and watched it, and some people backed off. When I turned around, some people were already trying to leave, and others were just sitting there going, 'Yes, that's great!' And I remember that statement, because I was, like, this is not great. This is the time to leave.
At first, there was no panic. Everybody just kind of turned. Most people still just stood there. In the other rooms, the smoke hadn't gotten to them, the flame wasn't that bad, they didn't think anything of it. Well, I guess once we all started to turn toward the door, and we got bottle-necked into the front door, people just kept pushing, and eventually everyone popped out of the door, including myself.

That's when I turned back. I went around back. There was no one coming out the back door anymore. I kicked out a side window to try to get people out of there. One guy did crawl out. I went back around the front again, and that's when you saw people stacked on top of each other, trying to get out of the front door. And by then, the black smoke was pouring out over their heads.

I noticed when the pyro stopped, the flame had kept going on both sides. And then on one side, I noticed it come over the top, and that's when I said, 'I have to leave.' And I turned around, I said, 'Get out, get out, get to the door, get to the door!' And people just stood there.

There was a table in the way at the door, and I pulled that out just to get it out of the way so people could get out easier. And I never expected it take off as fast as it did. It just -- it was so fast. It had to be two minutes tops before the whole place was black smoke."

 
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Vixen
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« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2007, 08:41:05 pm »



Make-shift memorial at the location of the Station night club
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Vixen
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« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2007, 08:41:58 pm »

Thousands of mourners attended a memorial service at St. Gregory the Great Church in Warwick on February 24, 2003, to remember those lost in the fire. Following the tragedy, Governor Donald Carcieri declared a moratorium on pyrotechnic displays at venues that hold fewer than 300 people.

Currently, the site of the fire is an empty lot, with the exception of a multitude of crosses, memorials left by loved ones of the dead.

Great White continued to tour, saying a prayer for the friends and families touched by that fateful night at the beginning of each concert. The band said they would never play the song "Desert Moon" live again. "I don't think I could ever sing that song again," said lead singer and founder Jack Russell.[2] Guitarist, Mark Kendall stated, "We haven't played that song. Things that bring back memories of that night we try to stay away from. And that song reminds us of that night. We haven't played it since then and probably never will."[3] The band also refuses to use pyrotechnics since the tragedy.

It was the deadliest fire in the United States since the 1977 Southgate, Kentucky, Beverly Hills Supper Club fire that claimed 165 lives. The worst nightclub fire was November 28, 1942, in Boston at the Cocoanut Grove, where 492 died after paper decorations caught fire. The Rhythm Night Club Fire in Natchez, Mississippi, claimed the lives of approximately 209 persons during a dance in 1940. The Station fire exceeded the death toll of 87 in the March 25, 1990, Happyland Fire in the Bronx, New York City
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Vixen
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« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2007, 08:42:41 pm »

Investigation

Investigators focused on the foam material which had been installed behind the stage. The foam was of a kind intended for use in packaging and product display and not for sound-treating buildings, and would not have been treated with fire-retardant materials used in acoustic foam. Witnesses to the fire have reported that once ignited, flames spread across the foam at approximately one foot per second. Through attorneys, club owners said they did not give permission to the band to use pyrotechnics. Band members have claimed they had permission.

In the early days after the fire, there was considerable effort to assign and avoid blame on the part of the band, the nightclub owners, the manufacturers and distributors of the foam material and pyrotechnics, and the concert promoters.

On December 9, 2003, Jeffrey A. and Michael A. Derderian, the two owners of The Station nightclub, and Daniel M. Biechele, Great White's former road manager, were charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter — two per death. All three pleaded not guilty to the charges. The Derderians also were fined $1.07 million for failing to carry workers' compensation insurance for their employees, four of whom died in the blaze.

On November 14, 2005, lawyers for the Derderians requested all charges be dropped against their clients, alleging a grand jury was never made aware of a fax vital to the case. The fax, sent anonymously to prosecutors by American Foam Corp. salesman Barry Warner, told of his company's policy of withholding from customers the hazards of its foam products, including flammability.
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Vixen
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« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2007, 08:43:42 pm »



Biechele at the time of his booking, December 9, 2003
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Vixen
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« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2007, 08:46:01 pm »

Criminal trial

The first criminal trial was to be against Great White's then tour manager Daniel Michael Biechele (pron. "BEE-clee"), 29, from Orlando, Florida. This trial was expected to start May 1, 2006, but Biechele (against his lawyers' advice)[4] pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter on February 7, 2006 in an effort to "bring peace, I want this to be over with."[4] Under the plea agreement reached with prosecutors, he could have served up to 10 years in prison.

Biechele sentencing

On May 10, 2006, State Prosecutor, Randall White, asked the court to sentence Biechele to 10 years in prison, the maximum allowed under the plea bargain, citing the massive loss of life in The Station fire and the need to send a message.[4]
Speaking to the public for the first time during his trial, Biechele looked to be truly remorseful during his sentencing. Choking back tears, he made this statement to the court and to the families of the victims:
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Vixen
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« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2007, 08:47:42 pm »



Biechele, giving his tearful apology



Biechele's statement to the court:
 
Biechele, giving his tearful apology“ For three years, I've wanted to be able to speak to the people that were affected by this tragedy, but I know that there's nothing that I can say or do that will undo what happened that night.
Since the fire, I have wanted to tell the victims and their families how truly sorry I am for what happened that night and the part that I had in it. I never wanted anyone to be hurt in any way. I never imagined that anyone ever would be.

I know how this tragedy has devastated me, but I can only begin to understand what the people who lost loved ones have endured. I don't know that I'll ever forgive myself for what happened that night, so I can't expect anybody else to.

I can only pray that they understand that I would do anything to undo what happened that night and give them back their loved ones.

I'm so sorry for what I have done, and I don't want to cause anyone any more pain.

I will never forget that night, and I will never forget the people that were hurt by it.

I am so sorry.”
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Vixen
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« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2007, 08:50:45 pm »

•   As the thirty-minute sentencing progressed, Biechele accepted responsibility for his crime.
•   Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan sentenced Biechele to 15 years in prison, with four to serve and 11 years suspended, plus three years probation, for his role in setting off the nightclub fire.[5]
•   Darigan remarked, "The greatest sentence that can be imposed on you has been imposed on you by yourself."
•   With good behavior, Biechele will be eligible for parole in September, 2007.
•   Judge Darigan considered that and deemed him highly unlikely to re-offend, which were among the mitigating factors that led to his decision to impose such a sentence.
•   The sentence drew mixed reactions in the courtroom. Many of the families believed that the punishment was just; he was going to have time to repent for what he had done. However, many after the trial were hysterical, still desiring justice for their lost loved ones.
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Vixen
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« Reply #10 on: July 15, 2007, 08:51:30 pm »

Nightclub owners trial

As jury selection was happening in the second criminal trial of Nightclub owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, the Derderians struck a plea bargain with prosecutors that would see Michael Derderian serve four years in a mininum security prison, and Jeffrey Derderian's 10 year sentence would be suspended in return for 500 hours of community service.

This outraged the families of the victims of the Nightclub fire, stating that justice had not been done in the case. They were also outraged to hear the news from reporters instead of Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who was attempting to reach families to tell them that a plea deal had been reached.
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« Reply #11 on: July 15, 2007, 08:59:05 pm »

After the fire: Great White, survivors live with the horror of Rhode Island tragedy
Band is playing sold-out shows, but some wish they would just stay home
Friday, March 25, 2005

By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


John Van Deusen III was one of the lucky ones -- if you care to stretch the definition of the word.


 
In 1993, Great White's members were Jack Russell, standing, and Audie Desbrow, seated left, Mark Kendall and Michael Lardie. Russell and Kendall are still with the band, which is touring to benefit the fund formed to help victims of the 2003 fire that started during the band's performance at a nightclub in West Warwick, R.I.
Click photo for larger image.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Great White
 With: Warrant and Firehouse.

 Where: Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse, Burgettstown.

 When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

 Tickets: Sold out.

 


The aircraft mechanic from Carver, Mass., took a first date to see one of his favorite bands, Great White, at the Station on that February night in 2003 and managed to come out alive.

Barely.

He lost eight friends and his date was badly injured in the Rhode Island club fire that killed 100 and injured 200 more. Van Deusen managed to crawl from the pile and grab a fireman's boot, but when he made it to the hospital, he pleaded with the nurses to "just let me die."

Van Deusen, a 40-year-old father of two boys, suffered second- and third-degree burns to 35 percent of his body and endured pain so severe he was placed in an induced coma for two months. He was the last survivor to leave Rhode Island Hospital three months after the fire. His lungs were damaged, and he has battled a blood infection, pneumonia and kidney problems. More than two years later, he is still unable to use his hands.

"It's destroyed my life completely," he says in a phone interview. "I'm having a hard time trying to put myself back together. It's hard for me to get up every day knowing that I have to go through the pain of therapy. And the days I don't have therapy, I don't even get up half the time. I just got nothing to get up for."

One thing Van Deusen doesn't get up for is the anger. Long before that night, he had picked up a logo design for a Great White tattoo. Someday he still wants to have it applied. "No one," he says, "understands why."



Great White way


Great White was well on its way to becoming a footnote, at best, in the history of rock 'n' roll.

As the hair-metal bands were about to lose their bounce in the late '80s, the Los Angeles band hit the Top 5 with a cover of Ian Hunter's "Once Bitten, Twice Shy."

Beyond that, there wasn't much that distinguished them from any other spandex band trying to sound like Zeppelin or Van Halen. Until the decision was made to use pyrotechnics in the small nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. Great White didn't even get through the first song on Feb. 20, 2003, before the Station was engulfed in flames.

In the wake of the fourth worst nightclub fire in the nation's history, the idea that Great White would ever play again seemed unthinkable, even for the band.

Mark Kendall, who was with Great White when it formed in 1982, says, "I pretty much sat my guitar down, and I don't think I touched it for like four months."

That night, Kendall swiftly made it out the side door, thinking he would get out of the way so firefighters could put out the fire and the band could go back and finish the show. He and singer Jack Russell watched the club burn in minutes. They're still not sure why Ty Longley, their likable guitarist from Sharon, Mercer County, didn't make it, though some say he was out and went back in for his guitar.

 


Stew Milne, Associated Press
A guitar is left at the memorial fence enclosing the wreckage of the Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., in memory of the victims who died in a fire that started during a Great White performance in February 2003.
Click photo for larger image.
 
 





In the weeks following the tragedy, Great White was the target of public outrage and faced the possibility of prosecution. Privately, Kendall, who lives with his wife and four kids in Palm Desert, Calif., came to understand survivor's guilt.

"I saw so many psychotherapists until I settled on one that I felt comfortable pouring my heart out to," he says. "And praying with my pastor on a daily basis, not just in church -- he was helping me through. It felt like temporary relief. I was having mixed emotions a lot."

Kendall and Russell, who play their first show in the Pittsburgh area since the tragedy Saturday night at the Pepsi Roadhouse, doubted they could ever play again. When they contacted the United Way, which had set up the Station Nightclub Fire Relief Fund, to see if anything could be done for the victims and their families, they learned that some survivors were launching a smaller volunteer effort called the Station Family Fund (www.stationfamilyfund.org).

"We spoke with them," says Kendall, "and said, 'Is there a way we could help?' They were all for it. That's how the whole process started."

In the spring of 2003, Great White re-emerged on stage to play a benefit for Longley's girlfriend and unborn child. Later, they launched a tour with three new members to benefit the fund.

"We're on this crusade to help the families and really to create awareness because playing the size venues that we play, we can only raise so much money on our own. But what we can do is put the word out. We're on TV all the time. We're constantly telling people about what a great foundation it is. By creating the awareness, we've been able to generate a lot more dollars just through that. That was the whole inspiration for the tour."



Controversial comeback


Not everyone has embraced Great White's decision to carry on. In September 2003, a concert in Weymouth, Mass., was canceled after dozens of survivors spoke out against the appearance. There also was an online petition calling for its ban in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.



 Stew Milne, Associated Press
A victim's son places a card on his father's cross at the site on the one-year anniversary of the blaze.
Click photo for larger image.
 


Nancy Noyes, who suffered second- and third-degree burns and spent 10 weeks in a hospital, told Time magazine at the time, "They don't deserve applause and people dancing to their music. I would never go see them again because there was such severe stupidity involved."

Diane Mattera, mother of 29-year-old Tammy Mattera-Housa, who died in the fire, went to the site of the blaze in the fall of 2003 and removed the memorial cross left there in the name of Longley. She replaced it with a note calling him a "killer." When the band resumed touring, Mattera told the Rocky Mountain News, "They're making a living off of our dead."

Although Van Deusen's mother has spoken out against the band's decision to tour, Van Deusen says he's bitter about what happened but not toward the band.

"It was an unfortunate accident that it happened. It wasn't their fault. Jack Russell, I talked to him [on the phone] a couple months ago, and I'd like to see him again. I'd like to see him on stage and shake his hand and let him know that there are still people who care about him."

The band's tour schedule for the past two years shows a concentration of dates on the West Coast, in the South, Midwest and Canada, but it's as if there is an invisible line blocking them from playing anywhere northeast of Pennsylvania.

Van Deusen would like to see Great White back in New England.

"I think the people of the towns who won't let them play are selfish, because the proceeds from the concerts go to us, and we need all the help we can get."

Kendall says he is well aware of the band's critics.

"We know that there are going to be people who don't want us out there, or whatever. But the thing is: What do we do because of that. Stay home and not help? ... I'm sorry but these people need help, and I'm not going to stay home just because you say we shouldn't be helping. This is the only way we know how to help, by playing music. This is what we do. This is something we're in for life; we're not just doing it temporarily."

The Station Family Fund has raised more than $700,000 ($85,000 directly from Great White) and has distributed it to survivors for everything from health insurance to buying groceries. Unfortunately, it had to shut down temporarily this winter for lack of funds. (This week, a California judge threw out a slander suit filed by Russell against a former publicist who accused him of embezzling some of the money the band owed to the fund.) Numerous stories have been written about the financial hardships of the victims, some of whom have received about $8,000 from Rhode Island's Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

That money became available when the Station fire became a criminal case. The band's former manager, Daniel Biechele, who set off the pyrotechnics, is under criminal indictment along with club owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, also a TV news reporter, for involuntary manslaughter. They have all pleaded innocent and await a trial that may begin in January.

Last summer, a group of more than 200 victims and family members filed a federal civil suit targeting Russell and 46 others -- including the local fire marshal and TV cameraman accused of blocking an exit. In January, Russell took the Fifth Amendment, fearing possible criminal charges against him in the future.

"I think there is one civil suit against Jack Russell," Kendall says, "but it's just going to go away eventually. We're not too concerned. We understand the lawsuits because of that night."

The band refuses to discuss details of using pyrotechnics, other than to say that it never used them before that tour and had been lighting them for two or three weeks before the Rhode Island show.

In a recent segment of "Larry King Live," Russell and Kendall were joined by two badly wounded survivors who were remarkably forgiving.

"They know that it's not our fault," Kendall says. "They're kind of students of the night. They know why things happened and they know all the facts. Blame-casting really isn't going to help anybody."

When pressed, though, Kendall says, "I will say this: I think if you're going to have foam inside your building, it should be flame retardant ... especially if you're going to allow smoking in your building. You should be conscious of material like that that is so flammable."

Kendall says the club was using the low-grade foam for soundproofing purposes. "That's the only time I've seen that. I've never seen it in a club before. They used it for soundproofing because neighbors were complaining about the music at night. At first, they started out by buying air conditioners [for them]. That wasn't getting it. Then they started with the soundproofing and double doors."


Rocking out


Although they drew an over-capacity crowd of 432 fans to the Station that night, Great White was all but an afterthought in 2003. After Nirvana wiped out the hair-metal bands in '91, Great White was unable to repeat the success of "Twice Shy" with '90s releases like "Sail Away" and "Let It Rock." The band's last studio records were the Led Zeppelin tribute "Great Zeppelin" and "Can't Get There From Here" in 1999.

 


Tony Dejak, Associated Press
A photo of Great White guitarist Ty Longley rests next to flowers in March 2003 at the Yankee Lake Ballroom in his hometown of Brookfield, Ohio. The 31-year-old was among those who died in the nightclub fire.
Click photo for larger image.
 
 





Kendall, who just released a solo record called "2.0.," says Great White was never interested in trying to step away from its hard-rock roots.

"I just write the way I write. It's called '80s rock, because that's when we were going. I've never really written songs for the radio. I'm not going to write some new kind of music just because it's popular. You can consider Great White almost like blues-rock, straight-ahead rock with blues overtones to it. We could write songs like Prong if we wanted to, but it would be kind of like cheating the fans. We can't change our music just because another sound gets popular."

Kendall says there is a chance Great White might record again this year, particularly since the pop-metal sound is making small inroads.

"I'm not saying it's some huge comeback, but Motley Crue has a new record, Velvet Revolver are doing really well, there's a little bit going on. I wouldn't say it's totally back, but there's a certain amount of freshness to the music, because it's been away for so long."

The show on Saturday night with Warrant at the Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse is already a sell-out. It's the country music club's first foray into "active rock," according to owner-operator Ray Bologna. Great White was not part of the decision to add a band called Firehouse. This is a one-off show that Bologna booked, and he says it was just a matter of the three bands sharing an agent. "I didn't give that any thought, nor was it planned. That's just the name of those bands."

"They've been around for years and years," Kendall says of Firehouse. "There are going to be a million things that people are going to come up with, but what are you going to do? That's the name of their band, and it has nothing to do with anything."

As for Great White, Kendall says the band, despite living with the tragedy, tries to approach its shows with the sense of fun it always did. They take care each night to stop and remember the Station.

"We used to have a hundred seconds of silence," he says. "We kind of moved on from that. We have a moment where we talk to the audience about that night and how we never want to forget our friends, and say a prayer for their families. Apart from our show itself, we just rock out like we always did. Nothing's really changed."

Of course, there's never going to be pyro at another Great White show. And fans won't be hearing "Desert Moon," the song they were playing when the blaze began.

"We haven't played that song. Things that bring back memories of that night we try to stay away from. And that song reminds us of that night. We haven't played it since then and probably never will."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05084/477106.stm
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