Rhode Island presses club fire crime probe

Feb. 24, 2003 at 2:27 PM

WEST WARWICK, R.I., Feb. 24 (UPI) -- The Rhode Island attorney general's office Monday reportedly executed a search warrant at the residence of a co-owner of the nightclub where 97 people died in a fire.

Officials said Michael Derderian has yet to say if he knew in advance that pyrotechnics would be used at The Station by the rock band Great White.

WPRO radio of Providence reported investigators seized records pertaining to the station from Derderian's home.

Attorney General Peter Lynch, speaking at a news conference on Monday with Gov. Don Carcieri, said he would "neither confirm nor deny" that a search warrant was executed.

He did confirm that while Derderian's brother, Jeffrey, the other co-owner, did respond to questions right after the fire, Michael hasn't yet done so.

It was Michael Derderian who allegedly gave the band permission to use the pyrotechnics, the band's attorney has said.

Lynch also said that Jeffrey "has not responded" since his initial session with investigators.

"Both could provide answers that we all here are looking for" to determine if criminal charges are appropriate, Lynch said.

Lynch urged greater cooperation from the Derderians in his criminal investigation.

The fire at The Station concert hall in West Warwick on Thursday night also injured more than 180.

"We have to look at everything in its entirety" to determine if a crime occurred, Lynch said earlier. He said his investigators are working as "quickly as we can" to reach a determination.

The Derderians, he said, "could, I believe, provide information that may assist all of us in making the determination we need to, a determination whether or not a crime has occurred."

Lynch said Michael was "out of town" at the time of the fire but "when he returned he did not answer questions and has not since then."

"I'm hopeful that they will respond to questions, and I implore them to do just that," said Lynch, who is considering calling a grand jury to weigh possible criminal charges.

"There are outstanding questions we would like them to respond to," Lynch said at an earlier news conference.

Lynch said the band that used pyrotechnics that apparently set off the deadly fire, Great White, "has been cooperative."

At stake isn't only potential criminal liability but also huge amounts in civil wrongful death and negligence claims that legal experts said are likely to be filed.

A Chicago lawyer involved with the nightclub trampling tragedy in that city last week, Kenneth Moll, said he has already been contacted by some in Rhode Island about a possible class-action suit against The Station and Great White.

"It's clear there's a liability factor here," Moll told the Providence Journal.

Areas of investigation include whether the band had permission to use the "sparklers" and the soundproofing material installed in the club.

The band's lead singer, Jack Russell, said club officials had given permission. That contradicted Jeff Derderian's earlier statements that neither he nor his brother had told the band it was all right to use pyrotechnics.

"It was a total shock to see pyrotechnics going off," Jeff Derderian, who was in the club when the fire started, said in a statement Saturday.

However, the lawyer for Great White, Ed McPherson, claimed that Michael Derderian gave the band's advance man verbal permission to use pyrotechnics about a week before the performance.

State and local officials said no had been permit issued for the use of pyrotechnics.

Lynch also said the history of the use of pyrotechnics at the club is "one of a number of ingredients we're going to look at."

Media reports on Sunday said other bands that played at the club had used pyrotechnics before and after the Derderians bought the facility in 2000.

Lynch and Carcieri said tests were being made on the type of foam soundproofing material used at the club to see if it was up to code.

The polyurethane foam, if not treated with a fire-retardant, is highly flammable, experts said.

"I want to understand as soon as possible what insulating material is there, because as I understand it, there are different kinds," some of which goes up like gasoline when a match is put to it, the governor said.

"Because if it was the wrong kind of material," he asked, "why was it there?"

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