Thursday, 4:30 PM
Grand jury testimony details findings in Station nightclub fire
By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff
Thousands of pages of documents from the grand jury investigation into the Rhode Island Station nightclub fire that killed 100 people and injured more than 200 in 2003 were released today by the office of Attorney General Patrick Lynch.
The release, which was ordered by a Superior Court judge following a public records request by three media outlets including The Globe, tracks the criminal investigation into the fire, which was the worst in Rhode Islandís history. The investigation led to the successful prosecution of the two brothers who owned the nightclub and the manager of the Great White rock band, who set off the pyrotechnic display that started the deadly fire the night of Feb. 20, 2003.
The Attorney General's office has posted all of the released documents on its website.
Although he was not called to testify before the grand jury, Jack Russell, the bandís lead singer, said in a written statement to the police that within moments of his taking the stage at 11 p.m. the pyrotechnics "caught [the] foam wall on fire. Obviously not up to speed as flame retardant. [We were] told by venue it was okay to use [pyrotechnics] but the place burned. I tried get some people out but couldnít see to get in."
Great White's manager Daniel Biechele, who was sentenced to four years in jail after pleading guilty to 100 charges of involuntary manslaughter last year, told police he had discussed using pyrotechnics with Michael Derderian, who owned the nightclub with his brother Jeffrey. In a letter to police, he said Jeffrey Derderian was beside the nightclub's stage as he wired the devices, called "gerbs" in the industry, for firing.
Michael Derderian was sentenced to four years in prison and three years probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter charges in September. Jeffrey Derderian, a former television reporter, was sentenced to 500 hours of community service. The Derderians had installed sound-proofing, which was not flame-retardant, around the nightclub's stage to cut down on the sound, which had been upsetting neighbors.
The testimony released today showed that grand jurors were concerned about the failure of West Warwick's fire marshal Denis Larocque to order the removal of the flammable sound-proofing but prosecutors told the grand jury that under Rhode Island state law fire marshals can only be prosecuted if "bad faith" led to their negligent conduct.
However, Randy Bast, owner of the Tennessee company that sold Biechele the fireworks, said he urged Biechele not to use pyrotechnics for the Great White band tour. Many of the venues were too small to allow for the gerbs, which set off a 15-foot spray of sparks for 15 seconds, he said.
"I told him to stay away from pyrotechnic devices," said Bast about his conversation with Biechele two months before the nightclub fire.
In a statement today, Lynch said he regretted the pain that the previously unreleased documents might bring to the families of those who died in the fire or those injured.
"I firmly believe that our disclosures of information have served the public interest and public good, but I have no illusions about the high costs they have privately exacted upon The Station fire families," Lynch said. "I understand that the release of case information -- and particularly today's information, which describes and depicts the events of Feb. 20, 2003, in vivid detail -- could well be very traumatic and painful, and I want the victims' families and the survivors to know how much I regret any further sorrow this causes them."