The lead singer for the band whose pyrotechnics display sparked the Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed 100 people in 2003 said he’s making a documentary that will give him a chance to apologize and tell his side of the story.
The plan has angered some who lost loved ones or survived the fire, including a woman who says she was asked to participate in the project and “adamantly refused.”
Jack Russell of Great White told Portland, Oregon, radio station 105.9 The Brew last week that the fire was rock ‘n’ roll’s version of 9/11. He said he is still horrified by what happened that night, when Great White’s pyrotechnics set fire to flammable foam inside The Station nightclub in West Warwick. Among the dead was Great White guitarist Ty Longley. More than 200 people were injured.
Russell said he feels “survivors’ guilt.”
“Why did I get to live and so many other people didn’t? I feel guilty for people coming to see me play and losing their lives. It’s really hard to deal with it,” Russell said.
He said his lawyer at the time told him not to say he was sorry because it would imply guilt. Russell was not charged in the blaze. His tour manager, who set off the pyrotechnics without a permit, and the brothers who owned the club struck plea deals, with one of the brothers and the tour manager spending time in prison. Russell and the other members of the band later settled a lawsuit for $1 million.
“It’s not like I had anything personally to do. It was just a horrible accident,” Russell told the station. “There was a lot of weird things that had to come into play to make that happen.”
He mentioned the fire marshal, who failed to note the foam during an inspection, and noted the club’s owners had installed an exit door that swung the wrong way.
Russell’s comments angered Jody King, whose brother, Tracy, was a bouncer at the club and was killed. King said Russell walked away from his responsibilities after the fire.
“I think it’s ruining all the positive strides that we’re now making to heal here in Rhode Island,” he said Thursday. “If he wants to help, stay away, shut your mouth.”
Gina Russo, who was severely burned in the fire, said she refused to participate in the documentary, and that Russell’s comments show he has no respect for those who were affected.
“I wish he could just understand that he’s hurt enough people. Leave it be, leave it be,” she said.
Russell did not say when the movie will be released or what he plans to do with the proceeds. A representative did not immediately return a message seeking comment. In 2013, near the 10th anniversary of the fire, the group that is working to build a permanent memorial to the fire asked him to take its name off a concert he was planning due to “resentment and animosity” still felt by many of the families and survivors.
Russell told the radio station he will never get over it, but doing the documentary might help.
“It will get me some peace,” Russell said.