The Station nightclub fire

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The Station nightclub fire
Time11:07 PM
DateFebruary 20, 2003 (2003-02-20)
LocationWest Warwick, Rhode Island, U.S.
Coordinates41°41′03.5″N 71°30′39″W / 41.684306°N 71.51083°W / 41.684306; -71.51083Coordinates: 41°41′03.5″N 71°30′39″W / 41.684306°N 71.51083°W / 41.684306; -71.51083
CauseIgnition of acoustic foam by use of fireworks
Deaths100
Injuries200+
 
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"The Station" redirects here. For the online sketch channel, see The Station (YouTube). For other uses, see Station (disambiguation).
The Station nightclub fire
Time11:07 PM
DateFebruary 20, 2003 (2003-02-20)
LocationWest Warwick, Rhode Island, U.S.
Coordinates41°41′03.5″N 71°30′39″W / 41.684306°N 71.51083°W / 41.684306; -71.51083Coordinates: 41°41′03.5″N 71°30′39″W / 41.684306°N 71.51083°W / 41.684306; -71.51083
CauseIgnition of acoustic foam by use of fireworks
Deaths100
Injuries200+

The Station nightclub fire was the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history, killing 100 people. The fire began at 11:07 PM EST, on Thursday, February 20, 2003, at The Station, a glam metal and rock and roll-themed nightclub located at 211 Cowesett Avenue in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

The fire was caused by pyrotechnics set off by the tour manager of the evening's headlining band, Jack Russell's Great White, which ignited flammable sound insulation foam in the walls and ceilings surrounding the stage. A fast-moving fire engulfed the club in 5½ minutes. In addition to the 100 fatalities, 230 people were injured and another 132 escaped uninjured. Video footage of the fire shows its ignition, rapid growth, the billowing smoke that quickly made escape impossible, and the exit blockage that further hindered evacuation.[1]

Because it was a high-casualty fire caused by illegal indoor usage of outdoor fireworks, the 2003 disaster bore similarities to the 2004 República Cromañón nightclub fire in Buenos Aires, Argentina; the 2008 Wuwang Club fire in Shenzhen, China; the 2009 Santika Club fire in Watthana, Bangkok, Thailand (cause is disputed); the 2009 Lame Horse fire in Perm, Russia; and the 2013 Kiss nightclub fire in Santa Maria, Brazil.[2]

Fire[edit]

Screenshot of the Butler video, showing the beginnings of the fire.

The fire started just seconds into the band's opening song, "Desert Moon," when pyrotechnics set off by tour manager, Daniel Biechele, ignited flammable acoustic foam on both sides of the drummer's alcove at the back of the stage. The pyrotechnics were gerbs, cylindrical devices that produce a controlled spray of sparks. Biechele used three gerbs set to spray sparks 15 feet (4.6 m) for 15 seconds. Two gerbs were at 45-degree angles, with the middle one pointing straight up. The flanking gerbs became the principal cause of the fire. The foam was in two layers, with highly flammable urethane foam over polyethylene foam, the latter being difficult to ignite but releasing much more heat once ignited by the less dense urethane.

The flames were initially thought to be part of the act; only as the fire reached the ceiling and smoke began to billow did people realize it was uncontrolled. Twenty seconds after the pyrotechnics ended, the band stopped playing and lead singer Jack Russell calmly remarked into the microphone, "Wow... that's not good." In less than a minute, the entire stage was engulfed in flames, with most of the band members and entourage fleeing for the west exit by the stage.

Floor plan of Station nightclub, showing available exits
Number of victims found by location (main exit at bottom-center)

By this time, the nightclub's fire alarm had been activated, and although there were four possible exits, most people headed for the front door through which they had entered. The ensuing stampede led to a crush in the narrow hallway leading to that exit, quickly blocking the exit completely and resulting in numerous deaths and injuries among the patrons and staff. 462 people were in attendance, even though the club's official licensed capacity was 404.[3] 100 lost their lives, and about half of the survivors were injured, either from burns, smoke inhalation, or trampling. Among those who perished in the fire were Jack Russell's lead guitarist, Ty Longley, and the show's emcee, WHJY DJ Mike "The Doctor" Gonsalves. More than one survivor later stated that a bouncer stopped people trying to escape via the stage exit, stating that that door was "for the band only."[4][5]

The fire, from its inception, was caught on videotape by cameraman Brian Butler for WPRI-TV of Providence, and the beginning of that tape was released to national news stations. Butler was there for a planned piece on nightclub safety being reported by Jeffrey Derderian, a WPRI news reporter who was also a part-owner of The Station. WPRI-TV would later be cited for conflict of interest in having a reporter do a report concerning his own property.[6] The report had been inspired by the E2 nightclub stampede in Chicago that had claimed 21 lives only three days earlier. At the scene of the fire, Butler gave this account of the tragedy:[7]

Aftermath[edit]

Thousands of mourners attended a memorial service at St. Gregory the Great Church in Warwick on February 24, 2003, to remember those lost in the fire. Following the tragedy, Governor Donald Carcieri declared a moratorium on pyrotechnic displays at venues that hold fewer than 300 people.

Makeshift memorial at the site of the Station night club

Five months after the fire, Great White started a benefit tour, saying a prayer at the beginning of each concert for the friends and families touched by that fateful night and giving a portion of the proceeds to the Station Family Fund. The band said they would never play the song "Desert Moon" again. "I don't think I could ever sing that song again," said lead singer and founder Jack Russell.[8] Guitarist Mark Kendall stated, "We haven't played that song. Things that bring back memories of that night we try to stay away from. And that song reminds us of that night. We haven't played it since then and probably never will."[9]

The band has since resumed playing the song.[10] On the two-year anniversary of the fire, Jack Russell and Mark Kendall from Great White, along with Great White’s attorney, Ed McPherson, appeared on Larry King Live with three of the victims of the fire and the father of Ty Longley, to discuss some of the healing that had taken place over the previous two years and some of the permanent scars that remained.[11]

The fire was the deadliest in the United States since the 1977 Southgate, Kentucky, Beverly Hills Supper Club fire that claimed 165 lives. The worst nightclub fire occurred on November 28, 1942, in Boston at the Cocoanut Grove, where 492 died after paper decorations caught fire. The Rhythm Night Club Fire in Natchez, Mississippi, claimed the lives of approximately 209 persons during a dance on April 23, 1940. The Station fire exceeded the death toll of 87 in the March 25, 1990 Happyland Fire in the Bronx, New York City. The 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago also had a higher death toll, with 602 succumbing in that blaze.

The site of the fire was cleared, and a multitude of crosses were placed as memorials, left by loved ones of the deceased. Surviving family members have announced their intention to acquire the site and erect a permanent memorial.[12]

On May 20, 2003, nondenominational services began to be held at the site of the fire on a monthly basis. Family members and friends gathered to memorialize their loved ones. In June 2003, the Station Fire Memorial Foundation was formed[13] with the purpose of purchasing the property, building and maintaining a memorial. The Foundation continues to hold yearly services on the site, near the anniversary of the fire.

The owner of the site, Ray Villanova, is donating the land for a permanent memorial.[14]

Investigation[edit]

In the days after the fire, there were considerable efforts to assign and avoid blame on the part of the band, the nightclub owners, the manufacturers and distributors of the foam material and pyrotechnics, and the concert promoters. Through attorneys, club owners said they did not give permission to the band to use pyrotechnics. Band members claimed they had permission.

While investigators focused on the foam material that had been installed behind the stage, claiming the foam was intended for use in packaging and product display, testimony available to the public contradicts this. Testimony by Barry Warner, the salesman from American Foam who sold the foam to the Derderians, confirmed that there was a sales order for high-density acoustic soundproofing foam. Chemical analysis of the actual foam that was in the nightclub on the evening of the fire was never released to the public. A roll of foam confiscated from the basement of the nightclub after the fire was removed by the ATF but the testing done on that specific foam was never released to the public. Witnesses to the fire reported that once ignited, flames spread across the foam at approximately one foot per second.

A National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) investigation of the fire, using computer simulations with FDS and a mock-up of the stage area and dance floor, concluded that a fire sprinkler system would have contained the fire long enough to give everyone time to exit safely.[15] However, because of the building's age (built in 1946[15]) and size (4,484 square feet (404 m²)), many believed the Station to be exempt from sprinkler system requirements. In fact, the building had undergone an occupancy change when it was converted from a restaurant to a nightclub. This change dissolved its exemption from the law, a fact that West Warwick fire inspectors never noticed. On the night in question, the Station was legally required to have a sprinkler system but did not;[16] outcry over the event has sparked calls for a national Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act but those efforts have so far stalled.[17]

On December 9, 2003, brothers Jeffrey A. and Michael A. Derderian, the two owners of The Station nightclub, and Daniel M. Biechele, Great White's former road manager, were charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter — two per death, because they were indicted under two separate theories of the crime: criminal-negligence manslaughter (resulting from a legal act in which the accused ignores the risks to others and someone is killed) and misdemeanor manslaughter (resulting from a petty crime that causes a death). The three men pleaded not guilty to the charges. The Derderians also were fined $1.07 million for failing to carry workers' compensation insurance for their employees, four of whom died in the blaze.

Band manager's trial[edit]

Daniel Michael Biechele
Born(1976-10-08) October 8, 1976 (age 38)
New York state
OccupationFlooring company accountant
Criminal charge
100 counts of involuntary manslaughter
Criminal penalty
15 years:
4 years to serve
11 years suspended
+ 3 years' probation
Criminal statusParoled March 19, 2008
Conviction(s)Pleaded guilty
Sentenced May 10, 2006

The first criminal trial was against Great White's tour manager at the time, Daniel Michel Biechele, 29, from Orlando, Florida. This trial was scheduled to start May 1, 2006, but Biechele, against his lawyers' advice,[18] pled guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter on February 7, 2006, in what he said was an effort to "bring peace, I want this to be over with."[18]

Biechele sentencing[edit]

On May 10, 2006, State Prosecutor Randall White asked that Biechele be sentenced to 10 years in prison, the maximum allowed under the plea bargain, citing the massive loss of life in The Station fire and the need to send a message.[18] Speaking to the public for the first time since the fire, Biechele appeared remorseful during his sentencing. Choking back tears, he made a statement to the court and to the families of the victims.

Biechele's statement to the court[edit]

Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan sentenced Biechele to 15 years in prison, with four to serve and 11 years suspended, plus three years' probation, for his role in the fire.[19] Darigan remarked, "The greatest sentence that can be imposed on you has been imposed on you by yourself." Under this sentence, with good behavior, Biechele would be eligible for parole in September 2007. Judge Darigan deemed Biechele highly unlikely to re-offend, which was among the mitigating factors that led to his decision to impose this sentence.

The sentence drew mixed reactions in the courtroom. Many of the families believed that the punishment was just; others had hoped for a more severe sentence.

Biechele's parole supported by families of victims[edit]

On September 4, 2007, some families of the fire's victims expressed their support for Biechele's parole.

Leland Hoisington, whose 28-year-old daughter, Abbie, was killed in the fire, told reporters, "I think they should not even bother with a hearing—just let Biechele out... I just don't find him as guilty of anything." The state parole board received approximately 20 letters, the majority of which expressed their sympathy and support for Biechele, some going as far as to describe him as a "scapegoat" with limited responsibility.

Board chairwoman Lisa Holley told journalists of her surprise at the forgiving attitude of the families, saying, "I think the most overwhelming part of it for me was the depth of forgiveness of many of these families that have sustained such a loss."

Dave Kane and Joanne O'Neill, parents of youngest victim Nicholas O'Neill, released their letter to the board to reporters. "In the period following this tragedy, it was Mr. Biechele, alone, who stood up and admitted responsibility for his part in this horrible event... He apologized to the families of the victims and made no attempt to mitigate his guilt," the letter said.

Others pointed out that Biechele had sent handwritten letters to the families of each of the 100 victims and that he had a work release position in a local charity.

On September 19, 2007, the Rhode Island Parole Board announced that Biechele would be released in March 2008.

Biechele was released from prison on March 19, 2008. As reported by the Associated Press, he did not answer any questions and was quickly whisked away in a waiting car.

Nightclub owners' trial[edit]

Following Biechele's trial, the Station's owners, Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, were scheduled to receive separate trials. However, on September 21, 2006, Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan announced that the brothers had changed their pleas from "not guilty" to "no contest," thereby avoiding a trial.[20] Michael Derderian received 15 years in prison, with four to serve and 11 years suspended, plus three years' probation—the same sentence as Biechele. Jeffrey Derderian received a 10-year suspended sentence, three years' probation, and 500 hours of community service.

In a letter to the victims' families,[21] Judge Darigan said that a trial "would only serve to further traumatize and victimize not only the loved ones of the deceased and the survivors of this fire, but the general public as well." He added that the difference in the brothers' sentences reflected their respective involvement with the purchase and installation of the flammable foam.

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch objected strenuously to the plea bargain, saying that both brothers should have received jail time and that Michael Derderian should have received more time than Biechele.[20]

In January 2008, the Parole Board decided to grant Michael Derderian an early release; he was scheduled to be released from prison in September 2009, but was granted his release in June 2009 for good behavior.[22]

Civil settlements[edit]

As of August 2008, nearly $175 million in settlement has been paid to or offered to the families of the victims of the fire by various defendants.

There are other named defendants who have not yet made a settlement offer, including American Foam Corporation, who sold the insulation to the Station Nightclub.[33]

Legacy[edit]

On January 16, 2013, Jack Russell scheduled a benefit show in February 2013, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the fire, and announced that all proceeds would go towards the Station Fire Memorial Foundation. Upon hearing of the event, the Foundation asked that its name be removed, stating the animosity still felt by many of the survivors and surviving families.[34] Jack Russell's management has stated that the show would be renamed and that the proceeds would go to another charity.

A fictional portrayal of the fire was shown on a Season 14 episode of Law & Order, titled "Blaze".

The third episode of the fourteenth season of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, titled "Torch Song", took its storyline from the nightclub fire.

A fictional portrayal of the fire appeared in James Crafford's play entitled "Thane Qwad" originally performed at the American Theatre of Actors in Manhattan.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Barylick, John P. (January 27, 2013). "Brazil fire a reminder of R.I. blaze: Column". USA Today. Retrieved 2013-11-20. 
  3. ^ Parker, Paul Edward (December 3, 2007). "Tally of a tragedy: 462 were in The Station on night of fire". The Providence Journal. 
  4. ^ Katie Roach (ed.). "Episode 1 Gina Russo 'Black Rain'" (video). YouTube. The Station web series. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  5. ^ Katie Roach (ed.). "Episode 4 Rob Feeney 'Flashover'" (video). YouTube. The Station web series. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  6. ^ Elliott, Deni. "Ethics Matters". News Photographer. Retrieved 12-07-2007. 
  7. ^ Butler, Brian (February 21, 2003). "Nightclub Fire Kills 39 People". CNN. 
  8. ^ Arsenault, Mark (July 31, 2003). "Great White: Performing again is the right thing". The Providence Journal. 
  9. ^ Mervis, Scott (March 25, 2005). "After the fire: Great White, survivors live with the horror of Rhode Island tragedy". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  10. ^ "Great White - Desert Moon - Sault Ste. Marie - January 10th, 2009‏". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  11. ^ "CNN.com". CNN. 
  12. ^ Station Fire Memorial Foundation Mission Page, accessed 11-07-2007.
  13. ^ "index". Stationfirememorialfoundation.org. Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  14. ^ Smith, Michelle. "RI CLUB OWNER GIVES LAND FOR MEMORIAL". AP. Retrieved 28 September 2012. 
  15. ^ a b [2]
  16. ^ Arsenault, Mark (April 4, 2007). "Building official: R.I. code required sprinklers". The Providence Journal. 
  17. ^ Nightclub Inferno Sparked an Industry’s Push, Roll Call, May 27, 2010
  18. ^ a b c Peoples, Steve (May 10, 2006). "Prosecutor wants 10 years for Biechele". The Providence Journal. 
  19. ^ Perry, Jack (May 10, 2006). "Biechele gets 4 years to serve". The Providence Journal. 
  20. ^ a b Breton, Tracy (September 21, 2006). "Derderians will plead; AG says he opposes sentencing deal". The Providence Journal. 
  21. ^ "Darigan's letter to families" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  22. ^ Tucker, Eric (January 17, 2008). "Co-owner of R.I. club where 100 died to be released early". The Boston Globe. Associated Press. 
  23. ^ "Band to pay $1M in case over deadly club fire". Retrieved 2008-09-02. [dead link]
  24. ^ Tucker, Eric (2008-09-02). "Great White offers $1M to settle fatal fire suits". Rocky Mountain News. Retrieved 2008-09-03. "Great White's insurer is covering the settlement. The insurer has previously said that $1 million was the maximum amount of the band's insurance policy." 
  25. ^ a b Tucker, Eric (2008-09-03). "RI nightclub owners reach settlement in fatal fire". Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-09-03. "Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, the owners of The Station nightclub in West Warwick, have reached an $813,000 settlement with survivors and relatives of those killed, according to court papers filed Wednesday. The settlement will be covered entirely by their insurance policy since the brothers have received bankruptcy protection that shielded them from lawsuits." [dead link]
  26. ^ "Governments offer $20 million in RI nightclub fire". Archived from the original on 2008-08-22. Retrieved 2008-08-19. 
  27. ^ "Packing co. settles for $25M in nightclub fire - News - Turnto10". Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  28. ^ Estes, Andrea (February 2, 2008). "Tentative deal set in R.I. fire case". The Boston Globe. 
  29. ^ "JBL Settles On Station Fire Lawsuit". Archived from the original on May 6, 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  30. ^ a b PBN staff (2008-05-27). "McLaughlin & Moran, Anheuser-Busch offer $21M settlement in Station fire case". Providence Business News. Retrieved 2008-09-03. "'Under the proposal, the carriers would pay $16 million for settlement of all claims against McLaughlin & Moran.' The other $5 million would be paid by St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, the nation’s largest brewer." 
  31. ^ Staff reporter (2008-02-13). "Home Depot Settles In R.I. Nightclub Fire". Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-09-03. "Home Depot Inc. and a Connecticut insulation company have tentatively agreed to a $5 million settlement in lawsuits brought by survivors of a 2003 nightclub fire and relatives of the 100 people killed, a lawyer for the families said Wednesday." [dead link]
  32. ^ PBN staff (2008-02-13). "WHJY, Clear Channel offer $22M Station fire settlement". Providence Business News. Retrieved 2008-09-03. "Local radio station 94 WHJY-FM and parent company Clear Channel Communications Inc. (NYSE: CCU) have reached a tentative $22 million settlement of lawsuits brought by victims and survivors of the fatal nightclub fire five years ago in West Warwick, Clear Channel said today." 
  33. ^ "Anheuser-Busch, beer co. to pay $21M in club fire". Associated Press. May 23, 2008. 
  34. ^ "Great White singer's fire memorial concert nixed". Los Angeles Times. January 18, 2013. [dead link]

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