Owner of Rhode Island Nightclub Where Fire Killed 100 Eligible for Parole

Relatives of some of the 100 people killed by a nightclub fire angrily oppose the possible parole of one of the club's former owners, saying he hasn't shown genuine remorse.

Many plan to speak at Wednesday's parole hearing for Michael Derderian, who is eligible for release after serving about 16 months of his four-year sentence for the February 2003 fire at The Station nightclub. The fire began when a pyrotechnics display for the rock band Great White ignited highly flammable soundproofing foam around the stage.

"I think the only pain I see in Michael is pain for Michael," said Chris Fontaine, whose son Mark, 22, died in the fire.

Derderian has been imprisoned since September 2006, when he and his brother and club co-owner, Jeffrey, pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter charges. Jeffrey Derderian was sentenced to 500 hours of community service but spared jail time.

Daniel Biechele, who as tour manager for Great White set off the pyrotechnics, was granted parole in September from his four-year sentence and is scheduled to be released in two months.

The parole board expects to hear statements from Fontaine and other victims' families on Wednesday night, then issue its decision next week after meeting with Derderian at the prison.

Parole board chairwoman Lisa Holley said she has received letters from people adamantly opposed to granting Derderian parole, but also from those who believe he has served enough time and should be released. Holley said she was struck by the level of forgiveness offered to Biechele, and that some people were making similar overtures toward Derderian.

"I wasn't surprised that some of them have also gotten to that point with Mr. Derderian," Holley said.

Still, some who supported Biechele when he became eligible for parole say they won't do the same for Derderian.

"I just got such a different sense from Daniel Biechele that the remorse was so genuine," Fontaine said.

Victims' relatives have praised Biechele for being the first person to accept responsibility — he reached a plea deal before the Derderians — and have said he bears less blame than the brothers because he had nothing to do with the club's conditions.

Prosecutors say cheap, flammable foam lined the walls and ceiling, a door near the stage swung the wrong way and the club was repeatedly packed beyond capacity — including on the night of the fire, when concertgoers stampeded toward the front exit in a rush to escape.

"He has always been about himself," Dave Kane and Joanne O'Neill, the parents of 18-year-old fire victim Nicholas O'Neill, said of Michael Derderian in a letter to the parole board that they released to reporters. "He has constantly shown an attitude that the rules, regardless of whom they are meant to protect, just don't apply to him."

Biechele tearfully apologized at his sentencing hearing for using the pyrotechnics and sent handwritten letters to each of the 100 victims' families. The parole board cited Biechele's remorse in deciding to release him early.

The Derderians say they didn't know the foam was flammable and that Biechele never had permission for the pyrotechnics. At his sentencing hearing, Michael Derderian, who was not at the club the night of the fire, apologized for not asking more questions about the foam and told victims' relatives that he never would have used the material if he had known it was dangerous.

"We would have never, ever knowingly put our patrons, our employees, our family and our friends at risk," he said.

Derderian's lawyer, Kathleen Hagerty, declined to comment this week.

Derderian has been disciplined for violating prison rules — he was accused of receiving food from his wife while at his work release job — and was moved from the prison's minimum-security facility to medium security.

More recently, though, Derderian, his brother and longtime friend Jody King — and the three men's wives — began an education fund to raise money for children who lost parents in the fire. King, who remains close to the Derderians even though his brother died in the fire while working as a bouncer there, said he was hopeful Derderian would be paroled.

"I can't wait to go out and have a dinner with Michael and be relaxed, and not have to sit at a table with guards looking at us," King said.