Great White goes on trial after club disaster
This article originally appeared in The Tiger on March 7, 2003 | PRINT

Tuesday, the 80s rock band Great White testified in front of a Rhode Island Grand Jury in one of the first wrongful death lawsuits to be filed against the band for the deadly nightclub fire that occurred two weeks ago. Four more families are expected to file suit by the end of the week, along with 30 other families considering the decision as well.

Great White and The Station club owners, Jeffery and Michael Derderian, are being sued for responsibility of the nightclub inferno that killed 98 people and injured more than 200. Great White guitarist Mark Kendall testified on Tuesday in front of a grand jury that was meeting to determine whether or not criminal charges should be filed in the case. The town of West Warwick, local fire inspector Denis Larocque and American Foam Corp., the company that sold the highly flammable foam that insulated the club, are also named as defendants in the suit. The town of West Warick is being sued for failing to notice that the insulating foam was not flame retardant and for not taking note of several faulty emergency lights during an inspection last year. When the club passed the fire inspection in December, owners were not required to have sprinklers.

Relatives of two of the victims, 33-year-old Tina Ayer of Warwick, R.I. and 46-year-old Donald Rodriques of Fall River, Mass. are suing the band and club owners for the lost income that the two parents would have provided for their kids.

Each family is asking for more than $1 million. The families claim in their suit that owners Derderians failed to properly "maintain, inspect and supervise" the highly flammable soundproofing foam within the walls and failed to obtain required permits that were necessary to use pyrotechnics within the club.

The nightclub fire broke out around 11 p.m. on February 20 when the band began to play their first set and to use pyrotechnics as part of its stage show. Within seconds the walls behind the band were lit ablaze and within three minutes the club was completely engulfed in black smoke. At first, concert goers believed that the flames were a part of the show, but soon realized, many after it was too late, that something was seriously wrong.

One reason that the fire spread so quickly was because of the cheap foam material that was installed in 2000 as insulation to soundproof the building. The material was extremely flammable, almost 20 times more than wood, and emitted a noxious black smoke that impaired visibility.

An issue that continues to be a point of controversy is whether or not the band was given permission by the club to use pyrotechnics in their stage show.

Club owners state they did not know the serious danger of the insulating foam in the walls and that no member of the band asked permission to use pyrotechnics, while members of Great White stand by their claim that they had been given permission to use the sparklers in their stage show. If indicted, both band members and club owners could face penalties ranging from involuntary manslaughter to second-degree murder charges.

Sunday, 51 people remained in the hospital from injuries sustained in the fire. Of those, 33 are still in critical condition.

Families are continuing to grieve for those lost. On Sunday, churches across the state of Rhode Island tolled their church bells 98 times in remembrance of the 98 people who lost their lives in the fire.

Great White guitarist Ty Longley was among those lost in the fire. Services were held for him as well in a remote church with friends and family in Hubbard, Ohio.

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