Deathly Nightclub Anniversary
For many local and area families, February 20 is an agonizing day. About 400 people from the South Coast and Rhode Island gathered at the Station Nightclub in Warwick to see the heavy-metal band Great White. Just after 11 pm, the tour manager of Great White, set off some pyrotechnics behind the band, which set a deadly fire to the soundproofing foam on the ceiling. At first, few realized the gravity of the situation. But as the fire and lethal black smoke spread rapidly, panic ensued as most of the concert goers tried to exit the club through the front entrance. The desperate stampede of the terror filled patrons caused a pile-up, blocking the exit and trapping the people where they stood.
Even though firefighters, who responded within minutes, worked feverishly to clear people out of the front doorway, 96 people died in the catastrophic smoke and flames, with most of the perished near the front entrance. Another 35 people were left in critical condition, including four who would later die from their injuries. The Station Nightclub disaster was the deadliest such fire in the United States since 165 people were killed at the Beverly Hill Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, in 1977.
What’s ironic is that on the same night, a Providence television news crew was at the Station to report on ‘nightclub safety’ because four days earlier 21 people had been killed in a mad dash for the exit at a club in Chicago. Contributing to the TV news story was Jeffrey Derderian, co-owner of the Station with his brother Michael. In the aftermath of the disaster, Daniel Biechele, Great White’s tour manager who set off the pyrotechnics, pled guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter and received a sentence of four years in prison with 11 more years suspended. Michael Derderian pled guilty for his role in maintaining the Station and received a 15-year sentence, four years to serve and 11 years suspended. His brother Jeffrey got a 10-year suspended sentence. Other officials like the fire marshal, public servants for licensing and inspectors all escaped any kind of punishment, while the parents, relatives and friends of the innocents live in a perpetual hell.
May the memories of the departed be eternal and live forever in our memory, today, the 20th of February, and always.