The owners of The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island have spoken out for the first time since 20 February 2003 when the club burned to the ground in a fire that killed 100 people and injured more than 200.
Three people were charged, including owners Jeff and Michael Derderian, in what was one of the deadliest nightclub fires in US history. The owners now say there are parts of the story that haven’t been told.
Around 11pm on 20 February 2003, the rock band Jack Russell’s Great White walked onto the stage at the club as tour manager Daniel Biechele set off four fireworks known as gerbs, which quickly set the entire nightclub on fire.
Jeff Derderian says he and a staff member grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran to the stage.
“We tried to get as far as we could. We couldn’t make it,” he told CBS’s 48 Hours.
A bottleneck was created as scared patrons tried to leave via the front entrance. Just 90 seconds after the start of the fire, the club was filled with black smoke and the attendees still in the building became trapped.
The third person to be charged after a nine-month investigation was the tour manager Daniel Biechele, who, along with Jeff and Michael Derderian, was charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter each.
They all entered into plea deals, with Biechele pleading guilty to 100 counts of misdemeanour manslaughter and Jeff and Michael Derderian pleading no contest to 100 counts of misdemeanour manslaughter. In the end, Biechele and Michael Derderian ended up in prison.
“We wanted the full story to come out … and that for people who want to … come to their own conclusion on what happened that night,” Jeff Derderian told CBS in the brothers’ first extensive TV interview since the fire 18 years ago.
The brothers said they ordered foam meant to soundproof the club, but were unaware that they had instead received a packing foam that was highly flammable. The band has said that they had permission to use fireworks, but the owners pushed back on this claim when speaking to CBS.
“These contracts are pretty specific,” Michael Derderian said. “So, I would think … that the pyrotechnic provision would be in there… Just like we need to have, you know, 12 M&M’s, I mean, you know, and they need to be brown.”
Former Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who spearheaded the investigation, said: “I don’t think anybody in anything that they did wanted anybody to die that night or get injured. But does that mean it’s not a crime? The answer is no.
“I think it’s pathetic, disgusting and unsettling to think that they’re even speaking now,” he added.
“You know a day doesn’t go by that we don’t think about it in some way, shape or form,” Jeff Derderian told the CBS programme.
Many survivors of the fire struggle to forgive the owners. Linda Saran got severe burns on more than a third of her body, spent weeks in a medically induced coma, and ended up with permanent scars.
“They have said they were sorry … but never once do they say, we screwed up … If they stood up and said, small business owners, we were inexperienced. We took shortcuts. We screwed up. I would forgive them in a heartbeat,” she said.
Jody King lost his brother Tracy but said he doesn’t think it was just the owners who were responsible.
“They blamed three. They should have blamed more … There are other people who should be responsible,” he said.
Mr King told CBS that his brother, a bouncer, “trusted the club. He trusted the owners. He trusted in his friends”.
“We never knew the whole story because the trial never happened, so everything really never came out,” he added.
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