Grief still smolders 10 years after R.I. club fire
WEST WARWICK, R.I. — Along a busy commercial road here sits a 10-year-old scar that hasn’t healed. Next to a crumbling parking lot, rusty folding chairs sit amid dozens of handmade crosses decorated with beads, stuffed animals and fading photos.
This is where 100 people were killed on Feb. 20, 2003, when the tour manager for the rock band Great White set off a flashy pyrotechnics display in an overcrowded nightclub. Its owners had tried to stem noise complaints by lining the walls with what turned out to be flammable packing foam.
In less than a minute, a Thursday evening out for more than 400 music lovers and club employees turned into a nightmare as flames raced through the one-story wooden roadhouse.
Some were lucky to escape with nothing more than cuts or singed hair. Others were crushed beneath a throng that surged for the front exit, or died from breathing toxic fumes created by the burning foam.
Others survived but were horribly burned, some losing their eyesight or their hands, or becoming so troubled from the horrors they saw that they attempted suicide.
Ten years later, the imprint of the fire remains in the survivors and victims’ family members, many of whom feel justice was never served and who have found different ways to move forward with their lives.
Any number of people could have stopped the fire from happening — Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, the owners of The Station nightclub; the town fire marshal who failed to note the flammable foam inside the club; and Daniel Biechele, Great White’s tour manager, who set off the pyrotechnics without a permit.
The only people criminally charged were the Derderians and Biechele, angering many who felt officials including West Warwick Fire Marshal Denis Larocque should have been charged.
Families questioned why Larocque never cited the brothers for the foam. Years later, it emerged that he told investigators he missed it in part because he was focused on a door that swung the wrong way.