- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

WEST WARWICK, R.I., Feb. 26 (UPI) — A grand jury Wednesday wrapped up its first day investigating possible criminal charges stemming from a deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire.

Last week's fire left 97 people dead and more than 180 injured.

Two members of the Great White — the '80s heavy metal band whose pyrotechnics touched off the Thursday night blaze in The Station rock concert club in West Warwick, R.I. — were subpoenaed to testify.

Jack Russell, the band's lead singer, told reporters late Wednesday after the grand jury session that band members had not yet been called to testify.

"I haven't been questioned yet," an obviously upset Russell said as he sat in a car. He said his lawyer did all the talking before the grand jury, the proceedings of which are secret.

Band member Eric Powers said he understood the need people feel to have information, but said he had "no information" he could share with them.

Meanwhile, the manager of the club, Kevin Beese, 38, said in Wednesday's Boston Herald he was "absolutely certain" the band's road manager, Dan Biechele, triggered the flares that set the club on fire — the fourth deadliest in U.S. history.

"There is no doubt in my mind he's the one that initiated the pyro," Beese said. "He's the one who said 'I screwed up' just after that stuff went off."

Beese also said the band had "no permission at all" from club owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian to use pyrotechnics.

Beese contradicted claims by the Great White's lawyer, Edwin McPherson, that Biechele received permission for the sparkler display from Michael Derderian.

"Believe me, if Mike or Jeff had any clue about that pyro, and I thought they had a clue about it, I would be the first one to blow the whistle on them, to put in on them, because I lost a lot of people in that fire," Beese said. "I felt people's skin come off in my hands."

The club manager said he had gone over details of the scheduled performance with Biechele and that at no time was there any mention of the planned use of pyrotechnics.

The Herald also reported Wednesday that the owners apparently regularly exceeded the club's allowable capacity of 300, and that as many as 500 jammed in The Station for some concerts.

Overcrowding could lead to criminal charges against the owners.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Patrick Lynch continued to pressure the Derderians to answer questions from investigators.

"I can only reiterate that I am anxious for them to answer questions and help us specifically," Lynch said at a news conference Thursday.

It was not immediately known if the brothers were also subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, which was meeting at the National Guard armory in East Greenwich.

Jeffrey Derderian, 37, meanwhile, reportedly has hired former Rhode Island Attorney General Jeffrey Pine to represent him.

Michael Derderian, 41, was being represented by attorney Kathleen Haggerty.

Haggerty said she planned to meet Wednesday with investigators and provide them with documents she deemed "pertinent" to the case, the Providence Journal reported.

Gov. Don Carcieri, meanwhile, had hoped the final four dead victims would be identified soon, but said Wednesday that now may take days.

He announced Tuesday that 93 of the 97 dead had been positively identified.

The governor said specially trained dogs swept the fire scene again late Tuesday but uncovered no further bodies.

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