Owner of club where 100 died donates land

The Station Fire Memorial Foundation plans to build a permanent memorial on the site where 100 people died in a fire during a concert in 2003.

WEST WARWICK, R.I. — The owner of the site of a 2003 nightclub fire that killed 100 people is donating the land for a permanent memorial, bringing an end to a yearslong effort to secure the site of The Station fire by families of those killed and survivors of the blaze.

Dan McKiernan, a lawyer for Ray Villanova, transferred ownership of the plot of land in West Warwick to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation on Friday, five months before the 10th anniversary of the blaze, which started when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White set fire to flammable foam that lined the walls of the club.

A makeshift memorial consisting of homemade crosses, flowers, photos and other personal items cropped up on the site shortly after the fire and has been maintained there by family members of the dead ever since.

The site was left open to the public, and a memorial service is held there annually on the anniversary, Feb 20. While the foundation has a design for a permanent memorial and pledges from construction workers to build it, nothing could move forward until it secured rights to the land.

“This is a milestone that everyone has been working towards for the past nine years. We’re fully cognizant of the enormity of this responsibility that we carry for so many people,” said Victoria Eagan, a fire survivor who serves on the foundation’s board.

In 2006, three people were convicted of 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter — club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian and Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele. The hundreds of survivors and relatives of those killed struck a $176 million deal in 2009 with several companies to settle lawsuits brought over the fire.

With the civil and criminal prosecutions over, attention turned to building the memorial.

The transfer was announced at the site Friday, attended by dozens of survivors, relatives of those killed and supporters. In the crowd that gathered to hear their announcement, people hugged and sobbed.

Dave Kane, father of victim Nicholas O’Neill and a former member of the memorial foundation’s board, had been critical of how long it took to secure the land.

Last week he called on the state to seize it by eminent domain, a possibility that Gov. Lincoln Chafee and House Speaker Gordon Fox said they would explore. At the site Friday, after visiting his son’s cross, Kane said he was thrilled.

“It’s been a long haul,” Kane said.