News Segment


July 23, 2004

Great White is still feeling the heat from the deadly Rhode Island nightclub inferno.

The hair band is among the host of defendants blamed for the 100 fire-related deaths in a lawsuit filed Thursday by survivors and victims’ families.

In what is the largest legal action yet stemming from the 2003 blaze at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, the suit was filed on behalf of the 146 people who managed to escape as well as family members of 80 of the dead.

The negligence and wrongful death suit, filed in Rhode Island Superior Court, seeks unspecified monetary damages.

The latest lawsuit comes after the December 2003 criminal indictment of the band’s road manager and the owners of the club, and it’s at least the sixth civil complaint filed over the tragedy. The previous suits have been consolidated in federal court; the new complaint will also likely be moved to federal court.

Thursday’s filing names 46 defendants, including Great White frontman Jack Russell and former tour manager Dan Biechele. The Great White contingent is singled out for setting off an unpermitted pyrotechnics display that ignited the fire on Feb. 20, 2003 that left 100 dead and more than 200 injured. Russell did not immediately comment on the suit.

Other defendants include the state’s fire marshal, Irving Owens (cited for failing to ensure the club was safe), local fire inspector Denis Larocque (for not recognizing that the club was using flammable foam for soundproofing), the club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, the manufacturers and distributors of the foam, the club’s insurance company and a local TV cameraman (accused of blocking an exit). The ostensible concert promoters, Clear Channel Broadcasting and Anheuser-Busch, were also targeted, although the beer maker denies having anything to do with the show.

Great White escaped criminal charges last December; however, the Derderians and Biechele were rung up on 200 counts each of involuntary manslaughter. They have pleaded innocent to the charges.

The band and the Derderians have also been fined by federal authorities for their respective roles in the inferno.

Great White, whose guitarist, Ty Longley, was killed in the fire, launched a five-month, 37-date Station Family Fund Benefit Tour last summer to aid survivors and the families of victims. According to its Website, the band, known for its Grammy-nominated signature tune, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” has raised more than $60,000.

The band is also considering legal action of its own against the record company behind Burning House of Love, a recently issued album compiling old Great White tracks. The band says that while the disc was released under the Great White name, it was an unauthorized and shameless attempt “to capitalize on a tragic situation.” In a statement, Great White says the band “wants to apologize for any discomfort” the release may have caused.

Meanwhile, in related news, state Superior Court Judge Mark Pfeiffer has blocked a media request to release 911 calls from victims of the fire, saying that the calls were “intensely personal.” However, Pfeiffer did okay the release of 165 police and fire department calls recorded during the incident. He also cleared the release of a report showing where the victims’ bodies were recovered.

Marcus Errico courtesy of E! Online