Former Great White Band Manager May Work as Bookkeeper While in Prison

A former band manager who was sentenced to prison for igniting a deadly nightclub fire should be allowed to work for a nonprofit agency while serving his time, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Daniel Biechele pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick and was sentenced earlier this month to four years in a minimum security prison.

His lawyers said Tuesday that he had been offered a job in the finance department of The Arc of Northern Rhode Island, a nonprofit agency that provides services to people with disabilities.

Biechele had no prior criminal record, and Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan Jr. ruled Tuesday that he should be eligible for a work-release program.

Prisoners in the work-release system generally work during the day and return to a minimum-security prison at night. Biechele's position would still require approval from the state Department of Corrections.

Biechele, 29, would be responsible for managing certain accounts, billing and keeping track of expenditures for The Arc, said Robert Carl Jr., the agency's chief executive.

The nightclub fire started when pyrotechnics during a Great White concert ignited foam used as soundproofing on the club's walls and ceiling. Club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian are both awaiting trial.

The father of one fire victim said he supported Biechele's plan to work at the nonprofit.

"I don't see any purpose in beating him senseless," said Dave Kane, father of 18-year-old Nicholas O'Neill.

But Michelle Hoell, whose 29-year-old sister, Tammy Mattera-Housa, died in the fire, said she thinks Biechele should not be allowed to participate in a work-release program unless he works in a burn unit.

"He has to see kind of what he did, and if he doesn't do that, than I don't think work release is going to do anything," Hoell said.

The Arc is in Woonsocket, about a half-hour from the prison. Biechele's job as a bookkeeper would be Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"He has an enormous amount to offer, particularly to disadvantaged people," Peter DiBiase, a lawyer for Biechele, told reporters outside court.