Published February 23, 2003
WEST WARWICK, R.I. – The co-owner of the The Station nightclub, where 96 people perished in a devastating fire last Thursday night, said Saturday he didn't know rock band Great White planned to use the pyrotechnics that ignited the blaze.
Jeffrey Derderian, a local television reporter who shared ownership of the club with his brother, first offered tearful condolences to the families of the fire's victims while speaking at a news conference.
"Many people didn't make it out and that is a horror our family will live with for the rest of our lives," said Derderian, who broke down several times during his speech.
But he insisted the band did not have the club's permission to use the fireworks, a claim echoed by at least four other venues where the band played in the past month.
"It was a total shock to me to see the pyrotechnics going off when Great White took the stage," he said at a news conference.
Great White's attorney, Ed McPherson, said the band got the go-ahead from the club's owners to use the fireworks, and that Derderian was at the venue when they were being set up prior to the band's performance.
"Everybody wants to point fingers, it's unfortunate that people are coming out and giving statements that are not true," McPherson said.
Attorney General Patrick Lynch said Saturday that it's too early to know if any criminal charges will be filed.
"Justice right now for our community is us pulling together," Lynch said. "The criminal investigation will continue. We have not rested yet."
A day before, Lynch said charges could range from assault to murder. A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms said there was no evidence for federal charges.
At least 96 people were burned to death or crushed and 180 were injured while trying to escape from the one-story, wooden club; on Saturday, 65 people remained hospitalized – more than a dozen critically. One woman who could not be identified was being treated at the burn unit of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Witnesses described an inferno that consumed the building in minutes.
"I never knew a place could burn so fast," said Robin Petrarca, 44, who said the smoke was so thick she couldn't see an exit just 5 feet away.
Meanwhile, the medical examiner's office – which had only positively identified 15 victims by Saturday afternoon – said it will use dental records, fingerprints and DNA to identify many more who are burned beyond recognition. Great White guitarist Ty Longley was among the missing.
Gov. Don Carcieri, who met with the relatives of some victims, said days could pass before their identities are all known. He said he believed all the bodies had been removed.
"The effort that went on at that site is something I will never forget," he said.
Carcieri even made an urgent appeal to local dentists to check their answering machines in case their records are needed to identify bodies.
"The critical thing is we've got to be positive. The last thing we want to do is make a mistake," Carcieri said. "This is not a process that happens in one day."
At an afternoon news conference, doctors said they had been contacted by hundreds of families and were trying to winnow down likely candidates by asking questions about tattoos, birthmarks and other identifying characteristics.
A steady rain began to fall on the scene -- now, just a giant swath of black charcoal and debris -- as investigators continued to pore over the rubble.
The governor said relatives of the dead will be brought to the site Sunday to view the scene. A memorial service was planned for Monday afternoon.
A small stream of mourners added flowers and stuffed animals to a makeshift memorial by the charred wall that had been the club's front entrance where investigators say most victims had tried to crush through, despite the presence of other fire exits.
The club passed a December fire inspection but had no permit for pyrotechnics and was not required to have sprinklers because it was built before 1976.
State law requires clubs that believe they will exceed their occupancy rate to hire a firefighter to be stationed at the concert. The club had previously hired firefighters, but not on the night of the fire, when more than 300 people are believed to have gone to the concert. The club's capacity is 300 people.
The show was part of Great White's nationwide tour. The band used pyrotechnics during three other shows without discussing it with promoters or the venue, according to concert organizers or their spokesmen. Officials at other clubs said Great White asked before using pyrotechnics and complied when they were turned down.
Domenic Santana, the owner of the Stone Pony club in Asbury Park, N.J., said Great White failed to tell him they were using pyrotechnics during a Valentine's Day show.
"Our stage manager didn't even know it until it was done," said Santana. "My sound man freaked out because of the heat and everything, and they jeopardized the health and the safety of our patrons."
It was the worst nightclub fire since 165 people were killed at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Ky., in 1977. It also came less than a week after 21 people were killed in a stampede at a Chicago nightspot.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.