Rhode Island Nightclub Fire Victims' Families Describe Grief, Depression

Deb Gerfin is haunted by nightmares of her husband's final moments as flames spread across the walls and ceiling of The Station nightclub in 2003.

"Have you ever had to tell your children that their daddy is missing and presumed dead, and hear them wail in grief?" Gerfin asked in a statement read by a prosecutor Tuesday during a sentencing hearing for the former band manager whose pyrotechnics ignited the blaze.

"How do you convince them everything will be all right when it never will again? I have to be strong for them even when my heart is breaking," she wrote.

Her husband, Melvin Gerfin, and 99 others were killed in the Feb. 20, 2003, inferno, many of them trapped inside the small West Warwick nightclub as people rushed the doors to escape.

Daniel Biechele, the former tour manager for the band Great White, pleaded guilty in February to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Under his plea deal, he faces up to 10 years in prison when the judge sentences him on Wednesday.

First, the 29-year-old is hearing from the victims' relatives. Several spoke in person on Monday and Tuesday, and prosecutors read statements from others.

Jennifer Young stood in the courtroom and wept as prosecutor Randall White read her statement. It described a happy marriage and plans for a family, then dashed hopes for a long life with Robert Daniel Young, who died in the fire at the age of 29.

"I'm left with a lonely, empty house with nothing left but my sadness," she wrote.

On the night of the fire, as Great White launched into its first song, Biechele ignited four small pyrotechnic devices that each sprayed 15-foot-long streams of sparks. The sparks quickly ignited flammable foam used as soundproofing around the stage and engulfed the building.

More than 200 others were injured in the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history, and the worst fire in state history.

Biechele, recently married, now lives in Florida and works for a flooring company. He has looked solemnly at each speaker but has not shown any open emotion during the hearing.

Many family members who submitted written statements said they were debilitated by post-traumatic stress and depression because of their loved ones' deaths.

The family of 22-year-old Derek Gray, of Dracut, said Gray's girlfriend gave birth to the couple's daughter six months after the blaze.

"Our enjoyment of just about everything has been taken away," they said. "It's a struggle everyday to just get up and function."

Nancy Crisostomi, mother of 38-year-old fire victim Alfred Crisostomi, wrote: "Many times I have considered taking my own life, but my faith prevents it."

The owners of the nightclub, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, are accused of installing the flammable foam that allowed the fire to spread. They have pleaded not guilty to 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter — two counts for each person killed, under separate legal theories. Michael Derderian's trial is tentatively scheduled July 31; his brother's hasn't been set.