Great White Offers $1M To Settle Fatal Fire Suits


September 2, 2008

Members of the 1980s rock band whose pyrotechnics sparked a nightclub fire that killed 100 people have agreed to pay $1 million to survivors and victims’ relatives, according to court papers filed Tuesday.

The settlement offer from Great White is the latest stemming from the February 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick. Roughly $175 million has now been offered by dozens of defendants to settle lawsuits over the blaze, which also injured more than 200 people and was the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.

The band does not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, which requires the approval of the more than 300 people suing, among other conditions.

The blaze began when the band’s tour manager, Daniel Biechele, shot off streams of pyrotechnics at the start of the concert. Sparks from the pyrotechnics ignited inexpensive packaging foam the club owners had used as soundproofing around the stage. One band member, guitarist Ty Longley, was killed in the fire.

Though the band members were never charged, Biechele pleaded guilty in 2006 to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter and was paroled in March after serving less than half of his four-year prison sentence.

Biechele is covered under the settlement, as are lead singer Jack Russell and other members of the band at the time of the fire. The settlement also covers the record label, manager and management company of the band at the time of the fire.

Great White’s insurer is covering the settlement. The insurer has previously said that $1 million was the maximum amount of the band’s insurance policy.

The band has said it had permission for the pyrotechnics, something club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian have denied.

Attorneys for the band did not return calls seeking comment.

No settlement money has been distributed so far. A Duke University law professor has been appointed to work out a formula to determine how much money each person should receive.

The victims and survivors sued several dozen defendants after the fire, including foam companies, the rock radio station that ran advertisements for the concert, the club owners and the local fire marshal who failed to cite the club for the foam on the walls and ceilings.

The state of Rhode Island and the town of West Warwick each agreed last month to settle for $10 million.

The case has been settled in piecemeal fashion over the past 12 months, effectively erasing the possibility of a trial that some victims’ relatives had hoped could give them answers about the circumstances of the fire.

“I just feel that we’re never going to get the answers we need that would put some of this to rest for us,” said Chris Fontaine, whose son, Mark, was killed in the fire and whose daughter, Melanie, was badly injured.

She said she thought the band “was getting off easy” and would have faced a much more costly verdict if the case had gone to trial.

Great White, from Southern California, rose to popularity in the 1980s, boasting a blues-inflected hard rock sound and scoring a Grammy nomination for its best-known song, a cover of the tune “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.”

Besides Biechele, the only people charged as a result of the fire were the club owners, who pleaded no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter in 2006. Michael Derderian will be out on parole next year. Jeffrey Derderian was spared jail time and given community service and probation. The brothers have been sued but have received bankruptcy protection.

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