Investigators have found a document that suggests the owners of a nightclub where 99 people died in a fire promoted its capacity well above the limit that night, according to attorneys representing people considering lawsuits in the disaster.
The document, found recently in the rubble of The Station, is an unsigned contract between the club’s owners and the band Great White, according to the attorneys. They said it shows the owners promoted the club’s capacity as 550 for the Feb. 20 concert.
West Warwick town officials have said the club’s maximum capacity was 404, if all the furniture was removed. But no one knows how many people were there that night; the hand clicker that kept track of patrons as they entered the club melted in the blaze.
The document’s discovery bothered attorney Kathleen Hagerty, who represents club co-owner Michael Derderian.
“I think it’s certainly significant that a thorough criminal investigation didn’t turn up the contract,” she said, adding that the document was not drawn up by either Michael or Jeffrey Derderian, the brothers who own the club.
Hagerty also said the 550 number was generated by Pollstar Talent Buyer Directory, a national guide for booking agents.
“My understanding is that the Derderians never supplied that number. More importantly, they never had 550 people at the club,” she said.
The state attorney general’s office said it will seek a court order to gain access to the document for the state’s criminal investigation. Spokesman Michael Healey called the document a significant find, but couldn’t explain why it wasn’t discovered by state investigators.
The fire was sparked when Great White’s pyrotechnics set soundproofing foam around the stage on fire. Besides the dead, the inferno injured nearly 200.
Three attorneys representing more than 30 survivors and families of victims have hired fire experts to probe the site.
The pages recovered by the private investigators were damp and burned, but readable, said Max Wistow, one of the attorneys.
“It was the band’s copy of the contract. It had listings from prior engagements they had,” he said. Wistow said the contract was drafted by an agent for the band.
On Tuesday, a legislative committee approved a ban on pyrotechnics in Rhode Island nightclubs.
“With the tragedy at hand… it’s important people see things are getting done,” said Rep. Norman Landroche Jr., a co-sponsor of the bill and one of the first firefighters to respond to the nightclub fire.
The bill, passed unanimously by the Corporations Committee, would ban pyrotechnics in places licensed to serve liquor that have a capacity of up to 1,000 people, and would eliminate an exemption that has allowed older venues like The Station to operate without installing sprinklers.
The bill, which requires House and Senate approval, also would increase fire marshals’ authority and make the illegal use of pyrotechnics a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.