GREAT WHITE Unlikely To Be Indicted Over Rhode Island Concert Tragedy

August 18, 2003

Six months after the deadly West Warwick nightclub fire, state prosecutors are completing their investigation, according to a report published Sunday.

Prosecutors are expected to seek involuntary manslaughter indictments against the nightclub's owners and a rock band's tour manager, the Boston Globe reported in its Sunday editions.

The charges would be brought against Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, owners of The Station, and Daniel Biechele, road manager for GREAT WHITE, the Globe reported.

Lawyers say it is unlikely there will be indictments of the members of GREAT WHITE, who approved of Biechele's use of the pyrotechnics, and of the salesman and manufacturers of the highly flammable foam that lined the walls of the club and greatly accelerated the blaze.

Neil P. Philbin, a Rhode Island criminal defense lawyer who represents GREAT WHITE leader Jack Russell concurred. "To me, the best case they have is against the Derderian brothers," he said. "With everyone else, including my client, I have to ask, 'Where's the recklessness or the criminal intent?' "

The possibility that the investigation would not result in indictments against others besides Biechele and the Derderien brothers may be disappointing to those who escaped the fire as well as families of those who died. "Where's the justice if the band's lead singer gets off scot-free?" said Michelle A. Hoell, 31, whose sister, Tammy Mattera-Housa, 29, of West Warwick, died in the blaze. "And how much negligence does it take to make it a crime? That material was hanging on those walls for three years, yet no one from the town saw anything." Erin Whalen, 23, who suffered smoke inhalation and minor burns in the fire, said she trusted that the attorney general's office would make the right decision on indictments. But she said, "I know a lot of people will be upset if those responsible don't go to jail."

State Attorney General Patrick Lynch told News Channel 10 that nothing has been decided yet. He said it could still be months before any charges are filed.

The state would have to prove recklessness or criminal intent in order to win involuntary manslaughter charges against the Derderians.

Jeff Derderian's attorney, Jeffrey Pine, said Lynch should look elsewhere when filing charges. He said the entire band GREAT WHITE is responsible for the accident.

The blaze at The Station in West Warwick killed 100 people and injured nearly 200 others.

The Feb. 20 fire began when GREAT WHITE's pyrotechnic display ignited flammable foam placed near the club's stage as soundproofing. Read more.

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