Members of the band Great White have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury that will investigate the West Warwick, R.I., nightclub fire that killed 97 people last week, authorities said. The
Members of the band Great White have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury that will investigate the West Warwick, R.I., nightclub fire that killed 97 people last week, authorities said. The grand jury will convene tomorrow (Feb. 26), law enforcement authorities said on the condition of anonymity. One official also said investigators have searched the home of one of the club's owners.
The developments came one day after thousands turned out to honor the dead at three separate memorial services.
Investigators have been trying to determine who is to blame for Thursday's inferno, which was apparently sparked by the band's pyrotechnics and swept through the one-story, wooden building in just three minutes. The band has said it received approval to use the special effects, but the club's owners have denied giving permission.
Attorney General Patrick Lynch said the owners, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, have not answered investigators' questions since the fire. "I believe the Derderians might be able to provide some answers that may assist all of us," Lynch said late yesterday. Kathleen Hagerty, an attorney for the Derderians, said the brothers provided information to West Warwick police and have arranged to share information with the attorney general.
The pyrotechnics apparently set fire to soundproofing behind and above the stage. State law bars flammable acoustic material like polyurethane foam from the walls of gathering spaces like bars. "If it was [polyurethane], then the governor's going to want an answer to the question, 'Why was it there?'" said Gov. Don Carcieri's spokesman, Jeff Neal.
Paul Vanner, who described himself as a sound engineer and stage manager at the club, told The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald he warned Michael Derderian three months ago that pyrotechnics were being used by bands in the club and the practice should be stopped. "I told them, 'I don't know those dudes from [expletive]'," Vanner said. "They are lighting fires in your club. Tomorrow they're gone. Tomorrow we're here. I can't guarantee safety in your club."
Soundproofing experts who have seen video of the disaster say they believe the material used at the Station was polyurethane foam, a commonly used, inexpensive alternative to fire-resistant panels many experts prefer. "It's a common mistake many people make, not evaluating their materials," said P.J. Nash, a national soundproofing distributor in San Diego. "Polyurethane foam is extremely flammable, and if you breathe that smoke, it's going to knock you out in a minute."
A polyurethane panel typically costs about $150 while a melamine panel, which experts say withstands heat, sells for nearly $250. The club passed a fire inspection Dec. 31, but it wasn't clear if the soundproofing material was checked or would normally be looked at during a routine inspection. Fire Chief Charles Hall declined to comment on the investigation.
Authorities have begun interviewing employees at nightclubs in other states where employees say Great White used pyrotechnics without notice.
At the memorials, the focus was on the victims. "This state is like a close-knit family," said Tricia Colon, a middle school teacher who attended last night's service at the West Warwick Civic Center. "If you don't know someone who died or was hurt in the fire, you know somebody who knows somebody. It's that closeness that's going to pull everyone through this."
It was standing-room-only at the 2,000-seat center, just a few miles from the charred ruins of the Station club. In nearby Warwick, about 400 people sang hymns and prayed for the victims at an interfaith service. And hundreds more attended a prayer service in Pawtucket.
Among the crowd at the civic center were school bus drivers who had worked with victim Robert Reisner, 29, and drove his bus to the service. "There is no doubt in my mind that he was letting people out of the club in front of him," Danny Manns recalled. "He was a gentleman."
At St. Gregory the Great Church in Warwick, one pastor asked grieving families to hold up pictures of their lost relatives so mourners can "know for a moment those you loved."
"It's true that some good may come from this disaster, but the event itself is only tragic and will never make sense," said the Rev. John E. Holt of the Rhode Island Council of Churches. He saluted families for their "quiet courage."
The governor ordered state agencies to fly the Rhode Island state flag at half-staff. Carcieri also asked President Bush to declare the fire a state disaster, which would make Rhode Island eligible for federal aid.
About 80 survivors of the blaze remained hospitalized yesterday; about half were listed in critical condition.
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