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Rhode Island nightclub fire

At least 96 killed in nightclub inferno

WEST WARWICK, Rhode Island (CNN) -- Ninety-six people died Thursday in a fast-moving fire at a Rhode Island nightclub, Gov. Don Carcieri said Friday afternoon, adding that only a handful of the bodies have been identified.

With 35 people in critical and serious conditions, the governor said it would not surprise him if the death toll were to rise above 100.

Because some bodies are badly burned, Carcieri said, family members might have to wait for DNA testing to learn their loved ones' fate.

Dorothy Palazzo is searching for her cousin, who attended the music show at The Station concert club in West Warwick.

"We're hoping that he walks in that door," she said. "He's got a great wife, beautiful children waiting for him to walk through the door and come home."

Other families made the rounds of hospitals and morgues, several showing photographs of the missing in hopes that someone saw them escape the club.

Pyrotechnics used by the heavy metal band Great White ignited the inferno. Owners of the nightclub have said they did not know the band planned to use fireworks, but Great White lead singer Jack Russell said, "Our tour manager set that up with the club." (Full story)

At least 187 injured people were taken to nearby hospitals, where 81 were admitted, the governor said. Ten were flown to the nearest burn centers in Massachusetts.

Investigators are sifting the charred wreckage for personal identification and belongings that might help identify the victims, he said.

Families are being asked to bring photographs of the missing to a crisis center that has been set up at the nearby Crowne Plaza Hotel. Grief counselors and clergy members are on hand to help families.Carcieri said 80 people who escaped from the club have come forward and that all 81 hospitalized victims have been identified.

Carcieri praised fire and rescue crews, saying the first responders "probably saved as many as 100 lives by pulling people out of there."

Fire Chief Charlie Hall said because the wooden structure was small and was built before 1976, it was not required to have a sprinkler system. But when asked if one would have helped the situation, he said, "If there were sprinklers in this building, we wouldn't be here right now."

Great White did not have the required city permit for a pyrotechnics display, officials said Friday. Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said he was dealing with "a potential criminal investigation."

Carcieri said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was involved in the investigation.

It was the second fatal incident at a U.S. club in recent days. Monday, 21 people died and more than 50 were injured in a nightclub stampede in Chicago, Illinois, that apparently began when a security guard used pepper spray to break up a fight. (Latest on Chicago incident)

"The building was well involved inside of three minutes," said Hall.

Initially, people stood and watched the fire or casually made their way toward exits. Then panic broke out, according to videographer Brian Butler, who was taping the rock concert for a story on nightclub safety.

Band members jumped off the stage and joined the crowd, heading toward the exit.

Flames engulf the nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

Fire chief: Smoke hid exit signs
Hall said all of the building's four exits were functioning and that most of the bodies have been recovered from near the building's front entrance. The fire was "the main contributing factor" to their deaths.

"Human nature being what it is, they tried to go out the same way they came in" and were trapped, Hall said. "That was the problem."

He said the other three exits had signs with battery-powered lights, but people couldn't see them.

"The reason for the total darkness was the density and the intensity of the smoke that was produced by the burning materials: the panel, the soundproofing, suspended ceiling and so forth," the fire chief said.

Hall also said the building's capacity was 300 and that fewer people than that were in the club. The Station passed a fire inspection December 31, 2002 with minor violations that were corrected, Hall said.

One of the band's guitarists, Pennsylvania native Ty Longley, is among the missing in the fire's aftermath. He had been with the band for three years.

"We're still looking for him," Russell said Friday morning. "I'm going to check the hospitals. That's my main concern right now, is to find him. After 25 years in show business, nothing like this has ever happened.

"What do you say? Gee, I'm sorry? That just doesn't cut it," the lead singer said. "There're no words to express how I feel right now. I'm devastated."

A statement issued by Great White, Manic Music Management and Knight Records said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with those that have passed away, those that are suffering and to the families and friends thereof. There has been a tragic accident affecting a lot of people in a terrible way, we are deeply saddened as to what has happened."

Attorney Kathleen Hagerty, representing club owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, said the fire was "an absolute tragedy" and that the brothers were "devastated and in shock."

Updated at 8 May 2006

Sentencing hearing begins for manager in R.I. club fire

PROVIDENCE -- Relatives of the 100 people killed three years ago in The Station nightclub disaster will have a chance to share their pain this week in open court -- in front of the man whose pyrotechnics sparked the blaze.Daniel Biechele, 29, will be sentenced in an unusual three-day hearing, starting today, that is expected to showcase emotionally wrenching testimonials from the victims' families.

Biechele was tour manager for the rock band Great White when he set off the display during a Feb. 20, 2003, concert, igniting a fire that swiftly enveloped the crowded nightclub. In addition to the 100 killed, 200 people were injured.

Biechele will be sentenced under a plea deal Wednesday to serve up to 10 years in prison, and prosecutors are recommending the maximum possible term. His lawyers are asking for community service instead of jail time. He was to have been the first of three men charged in the fire to stand trial. Instead, he became the first to accept responsibility by pleading guilty in February to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Updated at 10 May 2006
Band manager gets 4 years in fatal club fire
Daniel Biechele pleaded guilty to role in 100 deaths in 2003 R.I. blaze

A former rock-band manager whose pyrotechnics caused a nightclub fire that killed 100 people was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison.

Daniel Biechele, 29, could have gotten as much as 10 years behind bars under a deal he struck with prosecutors in February, when he pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. He also received an 11-year suspended sentence and three years of probation.

“The greatest sentence that can be imposed upon you has been imposed upon you by yourself,” Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr. told Biechele, drawing sobs and groans from some of those in the courtroom. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The sentence came after two days of anguished testimony from the victims’ families, who told of college graduations they would never see, grandchildren they would never hold and grief so powerful that they could not get out of bed in the morning and looked forward to death to be reunited with their loved ones.

Sparks ignited foam in 2003 blaze
Biechele was the tour manager for heavy metal band Great White when on Feb. 20, 2003, he lit a pyrotechnics display that ignited highly flammable foam that lined the walls and ceiling of The Station nightclub in West Warwick. The foam was used as soundproofing and was placed there by the owners after neighbors complained about noise from the club.

Many of the 100 people who were killed that night either were quickly overcome by fumes emitted by the foam or became trapped in a crush at the front door.

More than 200 others were injured in the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history, and the worst fire in state history.

Earlier Wednesday, Biechele’s attorney, Thomas Briody, argued that his client deserved mercy — in the form of community service, with no prison time — and feels immense sorrow for his role in the blaze.

“I ask you to consider this: Dan Biechele is the only man in this tragedy to stand up and say I did something wrong,” Briody said. “He’s the only man to say, ‘I apologize.”’

Relatives Of Station Fire Victims Tell Their Stories

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