Club Owners Reach Plea Deal In Great White Fire
The owners of a Rhode Island nightclub where a 2003 fire killed 100 people during a Great White concert will plead no contest to involuntary manslaughter charges, and only one will have to serve prisoThe owners of a Rhode Island nightclub where a 2003 fire killed 100 people during a Great White concert will plead no contest to involuntary manslaughter charges, and only one will have to serve prison time, their lawyer said yesterday (Sept. 20). Victims' relatives were outraged.
Kathleen Hagerty said brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian will enter the pleas more than 3 1/2 years after pyrotechnics ignited foam soundproofing while Great White was playing at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I.
Hagerty confirmed that Michael Derderian will serve 4 years in a minimum security prison, with eligibility for a work release program, and that Jeffrey Derderian will receive a suspended 10-year sentence.
Relatives of those killed were furious about what they considered to be light punishments for the brothers' role in the fourth-deadliest fire in U.S. history, a tragedy that touched untold thousands of people in the nation's smallest state.
"I can't believe the attorney general is just going to stand by and say OK to this," said Diane Mattera, whose 29-year-old daughter, Tammy Mattera-Housa, died in the fire.
Hagerty confirmed the pleas after WJAR-TV and the Providence Journal reported on a letter Attorney General Patrick Lynch wrote to families of those killed to announce the plea deal. Lynch says in the letter that he objects to the sentences that Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan has said he will give the Derderians. He reiterated those sentiments in a written statement released today.
"Most significantly, I strongly disagree with the Court's intention to sentence Jeffrey Derderian to less than jail," he wrote. He added, however, that the plea deals mean the brothers are accepting criminal responsibility "despite months of denials."
The Derderians will change their pleas Sept. 29 and will be sentenced once relatives of those killed have a chance to present victim impact statements, according to the letter.
Many relatives of victims, including Robert Bruyere, whose stepdaughter, Bonnie Hamelin, died in the fire, said they learned about the plea from news reports. Lynch "better hope I don't see him in person, because I'll be in jail," Bruyere said in a telephone interview as his wife, Claire, sobbed in the background.
The plea comes as jury selection was under way for Michael Derderian's criminal trial; his brother's trial was to have followed. "All I can say is that Jeffrey and Michael Derderian are looking to put a resolution to this and to avoid any further pain to any of the victims' families or survivors of the tragedy," Hagerty said. She said Michael Derderian is to receive a tougher sentence than his brother because he is the one who bought the foam.
In May, former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele was sentenced to four years in prison for igniting the pyrotechnics without the required permit. He pleaded guilty in February to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
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