Published February 02, 2008
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A TV station and a cameraman accused of getting in the way of people fleeing the nightclub fire that killed 100 people have reached a tentative $30 million settlement with survivors and victims' relatives, a lawyer involved in the deal said Saturday.
It is the largest settlement of several reached so far with the dozens of people and companies who sued over the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub. The blaze began when pyrotechnics used by the 1980s rock band Great White ignited highly flammable soundproofing foam covering the walls.
Brian Butler, a cameraman for WPRI-TV, was at the West Warwick nightclub gathering footage for a segment on safety in public places. His video formed the most complete record of the early moments of the fire, revealing the rapid spread of flames and the frantic rush for the exits.
Lawyers for the victims accused Butler of impeding the crowd's exit through the front door. He and his lawyer, Chip Babcock, have denied the claim.
Babcock did not immediately return calls seeking comment Saturday. After Butler was sued in 2004, Babcock said that his client "had saved lives that night."
In an affidavit submitted last year, Butler said he left the club as soon as he noticed the flames and did not stop to videotape the patrons.
The general manager for WPRI also did not immediately return calls for comment.
The settlement, which also involves the station's owner, LIN-TV, was first reported Saturday by The Boston Globe. A lawyer involved in the deal confirmed the settlement on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
As part of the settlement, the defendants are not admitting any responsibility, the lawyer said.
The settlement requires the approval of a judge handling the case and the plaintiffs.
Chris Fontaine, whose son died in the fire and whose daughter was injured, said the news brought her little comfort.
"This has never been about the money," Fontaine said. "No amount of money is ever going to bring back my son or remove the scars from my daughter."
About 300 survivors and victims' relatives sued after the fire. Last year, lawyers reached settlements totaling $18.5 million with some of the defendants. Dozens of defendants remain in the case.
Though civil cases related to the fire are pending, the criminal case was resolved in 2006 through plea deals with the three men charged.
Daniel Biechele, the former Great White tour manager who pleaded guilty to igniting the pyrotechnics, is due to be released on parole next month after serving less than half of his four-year prison sentence.
Michael Derderian, one of the brothers who owned the club, was also sentenced to four years in prison. His brother, Jeffrey, was spared prison time and was sentenced to community service.