Pyrotechnics director can be questioned about Station fire
Judge's ruling also notes he does not have to talk
PROVIDENCE -- Lawyers representing the families of the 100 people killed by a 2003 nightclub fire may question the man whose pyrotechnics display ignited the blaze, a federal magistrate ruled yesterday.
The ruling notes, however, that Daniel Biechele, the former tour manager for the rock band Great White, can invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination in an attempt to avoid answering questions he believes might subject him to additional prosecution.
Biechele pleaded guilty last year to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter and is serving a four-year prison sentence for the Feb. 20, 2003 fire, which began when his pyrotechnics set fire to highly flammable foam lining the walls of The Station nightclub in West Warwick.
Lawyers representing a few hundred survivors and victims' families have sued dozens of defendants, including foam manufacturers and members of the band, and say they want to question Biechele to obtain more information about the events leading up to the fire.
They also believe Biechele, who is among those sued, could provide testimony that would help with their other cases.
Biechele had resisted efforts to be questioned, with his lawyer arguing that he could still face prosecution in federal court or even in other states where the band had transported and used the pyrotechnics.
US Magistrate Judge David Martin rejected that argument yesterday, saying Biechele had already resolved all criminal charges against him and that an earlier court order that protected him from having to cooperate with the plaintiffs' attorneys no longer made sense.
Martin lifted that order, entered in March 2005, saying the "legal landscape has changed considerably" since then.
"I think the judge gave us all we could ask for at this procedural juncture, and we're very pleased with it," said John Barylick, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Biechele's attorney, Thomas Briody, declined to comment, except to say that the ruling spoke for itself.
In his seven-page decision, Martin said the plaintiffs' lawyers should specify the topics they intend to cover before taking pretrial testimony, or depositions, of Biechele.
Biechele would then be free to seek a protective order to get out of answering questions that he believe violate his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.