- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

WEST WARWICK, R.I., Feb. 22 (UPI) — The owner of a Rhode Island nightclub where 96 people were killed in a fire Thursday night told reporters Saturday the incident was "a horror that will haunt my family and I as long as we live."

Jeffrey Derderian, co-owner of The Station, completely broke down in sobs Saturday night while trying to read a statement to reporters. While describing the events of the night, when pyrotechnics used by the band Great White turned the club into fiery inferno that trapped club-goers inside, he implored reporters to "please know I tried as hard as I could" to pull people out.

As of late Saturday, fire investigators believed they had recovered the remains of all 96 victims and four teams of forensics experts were working around the clock to identify the victims, Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri said.

"We are pretty convinced there are no bodies there," he said, adding authorities are no longer engaged in a search and recovery process. "Their assessment is that they've combed it and combed it and they've found everyone," he said.

Six more victims had been identified, bringing the total from earlier Saturday to 15 positive identifications, Carcieri said. He commended dentists on their quick response to calls for dental records to identify victims, which he said would provide the quickest identification medium because DNA analysis can take weeks and visual identification is "not feasible."

Four teams of forensics experts, 25 people total, were working around the clock in 12-hour shifts, and experts were evaluating the situation to see if they needed additional resources. A mobile unit was en route from Maryland, Carcieri said, adding that he didn't believe it would be needed.

Eighty people remained in hospitals; 23 in Massachusetts and 57 in Rhode Island, while 105 people had been seen and discharged, Carcieri said.

Earlier Saturday Carcieri told reporters some stored pyrotechnic materials had been discovered, but gave no further details.

The quick-moving fire leveled the nightclub Thursday night, burning the victims or chasing them to be crushed in a stampede in a dash for the front doors in dense smoke. Other exits were mostly unused, obscured in the smoke.

The rotating fireworks used as a background effect by the band Great White could be seen on videotape, igniting the back of the stage, sending flames up the wall into the roof while patrons stopped cheering. Their realization of danger had been slow in coming. The band's guitarist was among the missing.

On the band's web site, planetjr.com, a nearly totally black screen greeted visitors Saturday, the message only, "In light of the horrible incident that occurred in West Warwick, R.I., our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody that lost their lives or were injured." The band had been scheduled to play in Springfield, Va., Friday night.

Nothing was left of The Station, the small wooden building that held more than the legal capacity of 300 people when the fire began. Many of those swaying to the music were there for the first time, unfamiliar with the additional exits that could have saved lives.

Under Rhode Island law, only buildings erected after 1974 are required to have sprinklers. The nightclub was constructed in the late 1950s as a restaurant, the Post said.

"If you weren't out of the building in 30 seconds, you didn't get out," Carcieri told reporters. The state began a criminal investigation of the disaster.

The videotape showed dense black smoke sweeping into the cramped space in front of the stage, cutting off escape routes as flames quickly spread.

"This shouldn't have happened," Carcieri said earlier after returning to the state from Florida and viewing the scene. "Somebody made a bad decision" in allowing pyrotechnics to be used in so small a building.

Jack Russell, the lead singer of the Great White band, told reporters he had permission from club managers to use pyrotechnics, but the owners denied permission had been asked for or granted.

"If we didn't (have permission) we wouldn't have even left the bus," Russell said. He said he understood that the club had a permit and had told his managers the band could use pyrotechnics.

However, Derderian Saturday night underscored that he was completely surprised to see the band's pyrotechnics. "At no time did either owner have prior knowledge that pyrotechnics were going to be used by the band Great White," co-owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian said in a statement issued Friday. "No permission was ever requested by the band or its agents to use pyrotechnics at The Station, and no permission was even given."

Fire Chief Charles Hall said the town had no record of a permit for the use of pyrotechnics at the club. He said the building was totally engulfed in flames within three minutes.

"Nobody had a chance," Carcieri told reporters.

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