'Great White' to Testify About Club Fire

By | February 26, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Members of the rock group Great White have been subpoenaed by prosecutors and said Tuesday they will appear before a grand jury investigating whether criminal charges should be filed in the nightclub inferno that killed 97 people.

The grand jury was scheduled to convene Wednesday, and the band members were expected to testify the same day, according to law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Two band members flew back to Rhode Island late Tuesday. “We’re just devastated by the loss. It’s a devastating situation,” bass player David Filice said after arriving in Warwick. He would not comment on the investigation.

The band had returned to the Los Angeles area a few days after the fire without its guitarist, Ty Longley, who died in the blaze. The band’s publicist, Byron Hontas, said the four remaining members aren’t planning any performances or tours.

Investigators are trying to determine who is to blame for the fire that was apparently sparked by the band’s pyrotechnics last Thursday. Flames swept through the West Warwick club, the Station, in a matter of minutes.

The band has said it received approval to use the special effects, but the club’s owners have denied giving permission.

It could not be determined whether the club’s owners, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, have received subpoenas. Their attorney, Kathleen Hagerty, did not return calls Tuesday, and the attorney general’s office declined comment.

Police searched the Narragansett home of Michael Derderian on Sunday, according to a law enforcement source.

Attorney General Patrick Lynch has said he does not believe the Derderians have cooperated with investigators, but spokesman Mike Healey said Tuesday: “We’re not pitting the band against the Derderians.”

Late Tuesday, the band’s attorney told CNN’s Connie Chung that, a week before the show, tour manager Dan Biechele had gotten permission from one of the club owners to use the pyrotechnics.

“He told Mike what was going to be involved with the particular special effects that the band wanted to use, and asked specific permission from Mike Derderian to use these particular special effects,” attorney Ed McPherson said. “Mike Derderian gave that permission, and so they were used.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Don Carcieri said 93 of the 97 bodies have been identified. The governor also said there was a discrepancy between the number of people reported missing and those confirmed dead, and search crews using dogs were expected to go over the charred ruins again to look for victims.

Carcieri described his visit to a hospital where he met the family of a young woman who had gone to the club with eight others. Only four of them survived. The woman lost her fiancee and her brother.

“This is a tough, very, very tough process and the families and the impacts of this thing are rippling throughout the state,” Carcieri said.

The fire also injured nearly 190 people; about 60 remain hospitalized, including 39 in critical condition.

“They’re still in shock and distraught. It’s not any easier today than it was last week,” he said.

Legal experts and fire investigators said the Derderians and members of the band all could be indicted on such charges as involuntary manslaughter or second-degree murder. And a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Providence says federal charges haven’t been ruled out.

“It is pretty obvious that there was some joint responsibility. Maybe the issue is not which one to charge, but what to charge both with,” said Donald Bliss, president of the National Association of State Fire Marshals and the New Hampshire fire marshal.

Edward Ryan Jr., an attorney who represented a homeless man charged with manslaughter in a 1999 fire that killed six Massachusetts firefighters, compared the Rhode Island case to Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire that killed 492 people in 1942.

In that fire, the nightclub owner was charged with negligent manslaughter for having an overcrowded club with locked exit doors, an act that showed he disregarded known risks to life, Ryan said. He said the teenager suspected of starting the fire was not charged because the deaths were caused by an unsafe building.

Ryan said the grand jury could find the club owners and the band committed “affirmative acts” that caused the deaths – the band by using pyrotechnics without a permit, and the Derderians by failing to make sure no fire hazards were present. He cited reports that pyrotechnics had been used in the club by other bands.

“If they had 70 shows in the last three years and 35 of those involved pyrotechnics of some sort, that leads to a fair inference that they knew of or should have known what was going on in their club,” Ryan said.

“But clearly, whoever set up that display – the band – is a potential target, whether they had permission or not.”

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