- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — With boxes of tissues spread through the courtroom, sobbing relatives spoke yesterday about how they have suffered sleeplessness, depression and a sense of emptiness in the three years since a nightclub fire killed 100 persons.

“Our lives were filled with joy and light — and the light stopped and the joy disappeared with Mark’s death,” said Rosanna Fontaine, whose son, 22-year-old Mark Fontaine, died in the blaze. She spoke on the first day of a sentencing hearing for the former tour manager of the heavy metal band Great White, whose pyrotechnics sparked the 2003 blaze.

Daniel Biechele, 29, pleaded guilty in February to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Under the plea deal, he can be sentenced to no more than 10 years in prison.

Relatives of those who died were given five minutes each to explain how the fire affected them. They etched a portrait of epic grief in a state so small that most residents seemed to know at least one person at the club who was injured or killed.

Some described the pain of knowing their loved ones’ bodies were burned beyond recognition. Others said they keep thinking of their relatives’ last panicked moments as many rushed to the front door — only to be stopped by deadly fumes or the logjam of fellow concertgoers. Some described the end to a family name with the death of an only son.

“Your honor, there is nothing more painful in life than to bury your son,” said William C. Bonardi, whose 36-year-old son, William C. Bonardi III, was among those killed in the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick.

“In losing our only child, we lost our best creation and our future,” Mr. Bonardi said, as his wife, Dorothy, stood behind him.

Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan Jr. will impose the sentence tomorrow. Biechele will be able to make a statement before he is sentenced.

Biechele sat quietly as the relatives described their grief, looking down or straight ahead or occasionally at the speakers.

On the night of the fire, as Great White began its first song, Biechele ignited four small pyrotechnic devices that each sprayed 15-foot-long streams of sparks. The sparks quickly ignited flammable foam used as soundproofing around the stage, and the flames spread quickly.

The foam had been installed at the club after neighbors complained of noise.

Besides the 100 deaths, more than 200 others were injured in the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history and the worst fire in state history.

Criminal charges are still pending against brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, who owned the nightclub. They have pleaded not guilty. Michael Derderian’s trial is scheduled to begin July 31. A trial date has not been set for his brother.

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