Judge Says Criminal Trial in Deadly Nightclub Fire Case Still a Year or More Away

January 24, 2005

Owners of a Warwick, Rhode Island nightclub where 100 people died in a fire and the former manager of the band whose pyrotechnics sparked the blaze won’t stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges for at least a year, according to a judge familiar with the case.

There are so many issues that still must be resolved — such as how much, if any, of the highly flammable soundproofing foam that surrounded the stage can be tested — that Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan was doubtful the trial would begin for another year.

The Station nightclub fire case could start by next January “if we’re lucky,” Darigan said. He originally said the case would begin by fall.

Club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian and former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele each face 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter, two for every victim of the Feb. 20, 2003, fire. Hundreds of people were also injured when sparks from the band’s pyrotechnic display ignited highly flammable foam used in the club as soundproofing. Eight people who died lived or worked in Connecticut.

All three men have pleaded innocent.

Relatives of some of the victims told The Associated Press they aren’t happy to have to wait longer for a criminal trial, but are trying to be patient.

“It will be three years (since the fire), if it does go to next year. That’s a long time to see justice done,” said Cranston’s Bonnie Hoisington, who lost her daughter, 28-year-old Abbie, in the blaze.

“Personally, I want somebody to have some responsibility here, but I want the prosecuting attorney to be prepared,” Hoisington added.

Susan Morin, whose 31-year-old son Ryan died in the fire, said “the (emotional) wounds are still open. I don’t think time will make a difference” waiting for a trial. The Thompson, Conn., woman and Hoisington are among those who’ve filed civil suits.

Barbara Magness lost her only son and a daughter-in-law, Steven and Andrea Mancini, in the fire. She hasn’t filed a lawsuit, but says she still has time.

“I would hope everything comes to a head” soon with the criminal cases, the Johnston woman said. “My son is gone. Nothing will ever bring him back. What we’re concerned about are the people still dealing with burns and having trouble with (depression).”

Investigators have said the foam allowed the fire to spread quickly through the West Warwick nightclub and released toxic substances that may have contributed to the death toll. State law says such flammable material can’t be used as soundproofing in clubs and bars. Town building and fire inspectors never reported seeing the foam.

Foam samples were recently tested by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Darigan said the results will soon be shared with the state.

Darigan spoke with reporters after closed-door conferences with prosecutors and defendants’ lawyers, and later with lawyers in the civil cases. He said that initially there was an agreement that the parties in the criminal cases would jointly find a laboratory to conduct the foam testing. He said defense lawyers then decided to do their own testing.

Prosecutors have already performed some tests and may want to conduct more.

The three defendants in the criminal trial have recently filed motions seeking to conduct their own tests on the foam, but they want to keep the results private.

Darigan said prosecutors have filed an objection, which he’s asked them to explain in a memo.

Prosecutors declined to comment after the meeting with Darigan. The next pretrial conference is scheduled for Feb. 18.

Jeff Pine, an attorney for Jeffrey Derderian, said the lawyers “are trying to establish protocols and procedures so everyone can have access to important evidence.”

That includes lawyers in the civil cases, who have also asked the judge to ensure there will be enough foam left for them to test.

Civil suits filed by 240 survivors and family members of the victims were consolidated last month. The civil complaint alleges negligence by several companies, including those who promoted the concert, the foam manufacturers, town and state fire inspectors, the club owners and Great White.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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