NEW YORK – A Rhode Island television station caught arresting video images of a rock club fire that killed scores because it had sent a cameraman there to research a story on nightclub safety.
WPRI-TV of Providence had a special interest in picking the West Warwick, R.I., club, called The Station, because one of its reporters is a part-owner.
The Rhode Island nightclub fire came three days after 21 people were killed in a stampede at a Chicago bar. It was because of the Chicago incident that WPRI, a CBS and CNN affiliate, sent cameraman Brian Butler to The Station on Thursday night, WPRI managing editor Joseph Abouzeid said Friday.
Butler, who was not hurt in the blaze, captured pictures of the pyrotechnics display during the rock band Great White's performance. Flames snaked up the wall behind the band and the ceiling caught fire. It quickly spread, as Butler and some confused audience members headed toward an exit.
Butler kept his camera rolling after exiting, capturing a shot of the back door that showed thick black smoke and flames rolling through the doorway.
"People were trying to help others and people were smashing out windows, and people were pulling on people and nobody cared how many cuts they got, nobody cared about the bruises or the burns," Butler said. "They just wanted out of the building."
Butler's video was aired repeatedly on national news networks.
WPRI reporter Jeff Derderian is a part-owner of The Station, Abouzeid confirmed, but he said he would not talk about the reporter's business interest. Derderian had worked at a competing station in Providence before moving to a Boston station, and was recently brought back to Providence by WPRI.
Some news organizations require their reporters to get approval of outside business interests, said Bob Steele, director of the ethics program for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. He said he would be hesitant to have a reporter involved in a significant business in a station's coverage area.
Telephone calls made to Derderian's home Friday were not answered.