Nightclub Fire Death Toll Increases to 98

Churches across Rhode Island and Massachusetts tolled their bells 98 times Sunday -- a solemn reminder of a nightclub fire that claimed as many lives, including a woman who succumbed to her burn injuries the day before.

Kelly Viera, 40, died Saturday at Shriners Hospital, raising the fire's death toll by one, a spokeswoman for affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital said Sunday.

Her uncle, William Kelly, sat in a driving rain outside Grace Church, waiting to hear the bells peal for his lost niece. "I keep asking the Lord, 'Why'?" said Kelly, 57. "She was such a sweetheart."

Viera and her husband, Scott, were among more than 300 people who had packed into The Station nightclub in West Warwick to hear the '80s heavy metal band Great White. Scott Viera, an employee of the club, escaped.

"He's beating himself up because he managed to get out and she didn't," Kelly said.

Meanwhile, mourners wearing black ribbons with "Rock on, Ty" printed in silver packed a remote church in Hubbard, Ohio, to remember Great White guitarist Ty Longley, who also died in the Feb. 20 fire.

"Ty is now free to tour the world," band manager Paul Wollnough told the crowd at Corner House Christian Church, where hundreds filed in from the freezing drizzle outside. None of the four surviving band members attended the service, about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland.

Afterward, friends moved on to the barn-like Yankee Lake Ballroom in the nearby village of Brookfield, where local musicians and Longley's guitar teacher performed mellow rock standards.

The band, which Longley joined four years ago, hopes to release a collection music Longley recorded with Great White and others in about a month, Wollnough said after the service. Proceeds from "Regular Guy" would fund scholarships and benefit Longley's unborn child; his girlfriend is four months pregnant.

Investigators suspect Great White's pyrotechnics ignited soundproofing foam, triggering a fire that swept through The Station in minutes as panicked concertgoers tried to flee.

As of Sunday, 51 people injured in the fire remained hospitalized in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including 33 in critical condition.

A grand jury is investigating the blaze; no charges have been filed. Still at issue is whether the band had permission to use the pyrotechnics display.

Outside the burned out ruins of The Station on Sunday, Susan Henderson peered at a picture of her nephew that was jammed against a chain link fence. Her eyes hidden by sunglasses, Henderson said she was the only person in her family who had visited the makeshift shrine of flowers, photos and teddy bears because the others don't want to face the grim reminder that Keith Mancini died there.

"I wanted to see this," Henderson said. "I came for him."

Thousands of people, most of them strangers, paid their respects to the victims at the site this weekend. Many wedged flowers and added lit candles to the growing piles of personalized keepsakes. Children left homemade cards; one parted with a mini foam New England Patriots football.

Inspectors in white coats still work amid the blackened rubble.

Officials in West Warwick were expected to release documents Monday related to the club's history that could include building and fire inspections. The club had passed a fire inspection in December but wasn't required to have sprinklers.

Gov. Don Carcieri asked that all Rhode Islanders pause Sunday "to remember those who have suffered physically and emotionally" following the blaze. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, asking residents there to observe a moment of silence, said the lives lost will "remain forever in our hearts."