- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

WEST WARWICK, R.I. As the painstaking process of identifying dozens of charred bodies began yesterday, investigators continued sifting for evidence in the smoking ruins of a nightclub where a fire sparked by a rock band's pyrotechnics killed 96 persons.
Still at issue is whether the heavy-metal group Great White had permission to set off the fireworks during its first song late Thursday, igniting foam ceiling tiles and sending more than 300 concertgoers scrambling for the exits as the club quickly filled with thick, black smoke.
Owners of the Station, the one-story wooden nightclub, say they were never told of Great White's plan to use the pyrotechnics, an assertion echoed by at least four other venues where the band played in the past month.
"No permission was ever requested by the band or its agents to use pyrotechnics at the Station, and no permission was ever given," said Kathleen Hagerty, an attorney representing club owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, who are brothers.
But Great White's attorney said the musicians had verbal permission, and singer Jack Russell said their manager made sure they got the OK to send columns of sparks up the sides of the stage. And Paul Woolnough, president of Great White's management company, said they routinely check with clubs before pyrotechnics are used.
At least 96 persons were burned to death or crushed, and 180 were injured in their frantic fight to escape. Yesterday, 65 persons remained hospitalized, more than a dozen in critical condition. One woman who could not be identified was being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital's burn unit.
State Attorney General Patrick Lynch said yesterday that it's too early to know whether any criminal charges will be filed.
"Justice right now for our community is us pulling together," Mr. Lynch said. "The criminal investigation will continue. We have not rested yet."
Meanwhile, the medical examiner's office, which had positively identified 15 victims by yesterday afternoon, said it will use dental records, fingerprints and DNA to identify many more who are burned beyond recognition. Among the missing was Great White guitarist Ty Longley.
Gov. Don Carcieri, who met with the relatives of some victims, said it could be days before their identities are all known. He said he believed all the bodies had been removed.
Mr. Carcieri made an urgent appeal to local dentists to check their answering machines in case their records are needed to identify bodies.
"The critical thing is we've got to be positive. The last thing we want to do is make a mistake," Mr. Carcieri said. "This is not a process that happens in one day."


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