Nightclub Fire Death Toll Reaches 99

The death toll in last month's deadly nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., rose by one to 99 yesterday (March 6), when Mitchell Shubert, 39, died of his injuries. Shubert was a construction superinte

The death toll in last month's deadly nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., rose by one to 99 yesterday (March 6), when Mitchell Shubert, 39, died of his injuries. Shubert was a construction superintendent from Newberry, Fla., who had gone to Rhode Island to visit friends and family, his teenage daughter said.

Meanwhile, an attorney for Great White, the band performing at the club when the fire broke out, yesterday disputed claims that the group made a habit of using pyrotechnics without notice and said it had oral permission to use the effects blamed for starting the fire. Attorney Ed McPherson said tour manager Dan Biechele always made sure he spoke with each club to get permission because pyrotechnics were a new part of the heavy metal band's act and were not included in some of the contracts.

The Station nightclub was destroyed when the band's pyrotechnics ignited foam used by the club for soundproofing. Great White and the club's owners disagree over whether the band told the nightclub's owners about pyrotechnic show.

Biechele got verbal permission from club co-owner Michael Derderian about a week before the Feb. 20 fire at the Station, McPherson said. Derderian owned the West Warwick club along with Jeffrey Derderian, his brother. Jeffrey Derderian's lawyer, Jeff Pine, said Biechele and Michael Derderian did talk by phone about a week before Great White's show at the Station, but said the subject of pyrotechnics was never broached by Biechele.

"It absolutely wasn't discussed," he said. "They talked about what kind of food and other provisions and specialty items the band needed -- towels, food, and certain arrangements -- and there was absolutely no mention of pyrotechnics." Biechele has not commented publicly since the disaster. His attorney, Thomas Briody, declined to comment.

A grand jury is investigating whether criminal charges should be filed in the fire, which also injured nearly 190 people, 19 of them still in critical condition. Ninety-six people died the night of the fire, including Great White guitarist Ty Longley, and three people who were brought to area hospitals have since died. Authorities are investigating whether the club had illegal, highly flammable soundproofing on the walls as well as the circumstances surrounding the pyrotechnics.

McPherson said pyrotechnics are not mentioned in either the band's contract with the club or in a "tour rider" -- an addendum to the contract -- because those documents were signed in December. He said the band did not decide to use pyrotechnics on its tour until sometime in January "to spruce it up a little bit."

"One of the big reasons why [Biechele] made certain he spoke to them orally is because it was not in the rider and he wanted to make sure he had permission from every single club," McPherson said.

Biechele had considerable experience handling pyrotechnics as tour manager for WASP, another heavy metal band that, like Great White, found popularity in the 1980s, McPherson said. He said he didn't know if Biechele had any special training in pyrotechnics.

According to court documents, Biechele told investigators the paperwork from the booking of Great White's concert at the Station burned in the fire. However, Biechele said he did have generic forms stating the band's terms and conditions, including the use of pyrotechnics.

Owners and personnel of clubs in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maine where Great White played before the fire have said the band used pyrotechnics without telling them.

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