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Great White - Station Fire Update - Three-Day Sentencing Hearing Set In Nightclub Fire Case

By Newsferatu, Writer
Sunday, May 7, 2006 @ 6:50 PM


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From the Associated Press:

In the three years since The Station nightclub disaster, the relatives of the 100 people killed have clustered together for memorials at the roadside fire site and mourned alone in cemeteries. But they have never had a chance to share their pain in open court in front of the man whose pyrotechnics sparked the blaze. That opportunity will come this week as Daniel Biechele is sentenced in an unusual three-day hearing, starting Monday, that is expected to showcase emotionally wrenching testimonials from the victims' families. Biechele, 29, was tour manager for the rock band Great White when he set off a flashy display during a February 20, 2003 concert, igniting a fire that swiftly enveloped a crowded nightclub and devastated the tiny state.

Biechele will be sentenced under a plea deal Wednesday to serve up to 10 years in prison, and prosecutors are recommending the maximum possible term. His lawyers are asking for community service instead of jail time. Biechele was to have been the first of three men charged in the fire to stand trial. Instead, he became the first to accept responsibility by pleading guilty in February to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, who owned the West Warwick club, each face 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter and are accused of installing the flammable sound-proofing foam that fueled the flames. Some victim's relatives have no interest in attending the hearing.

"I do not want to hear the details of what happened," said Paul Roe, whose daughter Lori Durante, 40, was among those killed. "We've been living this thing over three years now. I just can't do it."

On the night of the fire, as the 1980s rock band launched into its first song, prosecutors say Biechele ignited four small pyrotechnic devices that each spewed 15-foot-long streams of sparks. The sparks ignited flammable foam around the stage. A television cameraman's tape of the fire shows dark smoke spreading through the club as panicked concertgoers push toward the front exit, where many ultimately became trapped. Though Biechele used the pyrotechnics in previous Great White concerts, he did not have the required permit to ignite them in Rhode Island. Biechele says he had permission from Michael Derderian to use the pyrotechnics. The Derderians have said no such permission was given. Ten months after the fire, a state grand jury indicted Biechele and the Derderians on 200 counts each of involuntary manslaughter -- two counts for each person killed under separate legal theories. The Derderians have pleaded not guilty. The sentencing proceedings will span three days, starting Monday morning. About 30 family members plan to present impact statements to Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan Jr. Others have written remarks that will be read aloud by a representative from the attorney general's office on Tuesday. Biechele, who lives in Florida, married his high school sweetheart in the last month and works at a flooring company while taking accounting classes at night, his lawyers said in a recent court filing. He has expressed remorse for the fire in handwritten letters to the families of all those killed. Though many victims' relatives were angered by the plea deal and hoped to see Biechele stand trial, others hold him less responsible than the club owners or fire inspectors who did not detect the flammable foam. Only Biechele and the Derderians were charged.

Richard Lapierre, whose 29-year-old son, Keith, died in the fire, said he would try to attend Wednesday's sentencing. But he said he was ambivalent about Biechele going to prison.

"I don't think he did anything intentionally," said Lapierre, of Oxford, Mass. "It was stupid, what he did, but I know he didn't do it on purpose." Lapierre said his son left a career as a stockbroker to become a teacher. He said his son had a "love story" marriage with his wife, who gave birth to a baby girl days after the fire. And, he said, the pain of losing his son hasn't gotten any easier. "To have it all snatched away in the blink of an eye, it's just awful."


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