Three Charged in Rhode Island Nightclub Fire
Tue December 9, 2003 04:13 PM ET
By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
WARWICK, R.I. (Reuters) - Three people were charged with involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday in the first criminal counts over a Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed 100 people and injured some 200 in February.
Capping a nine-month investigation into the deadly blaze at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, a grand jury returned indictments against two of the club's owners and a former road manager for the rock band Great White.
The Station went up in flames on Feb. 20 during a pyrotechnic display at the start of a Great White concert. It was the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.
During separate arraignments in front of Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel, club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, and the band's tour manager, Dan Biechele, were each charged with 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter with criminal negligence, and 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter in violation of a misdemeanor. All three pleaded not guilty.
Each count carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Vogel set bail at $10,000 cash for Biechele, and at $5,000 cash for each of the Derderian brothers.
Jeffrey Pine, a lawyer for Jeffrey Derderian, said the brothers sent their condolences and prayers to families of the victims.
"They are not criminals, they did not commit a criminal act and should not be facing criminal charges," Pine told reporters after the Derderians posted bail.
Earlier, Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch discussed the grand jury's findings during what was described as an emotional and tumultuous meeting behind closed doors with victims and relatives of those who perished in the inferno.
Survivors -- some displaying the telltale signs of burns they suffered in the blaze -- exchanged tearful hugs as they filed into a banquet hall in West Warwick to hear from the state's top prosecutor.
But witnesses said tears gave way to anger during the meeting as many relatives loudly questioned why others -- including the entire band and city officials -- had not been indicted as well.
"It was a disappointing first step," Michelle Hoell said of the charges unveiled against the three men. Hoell lost her sister, Tammy Mattera-Housa, in the fire.
In addition to the criminal charges against the Derderians and Biechele, a raft of civil lawsuits has been filed against a wider group of defendants in connection with the blaze.