The Great White Station Fire: 10 Years Later
Today marks the 10-year anniversary of perhaps the greatest tragedy in the history of rock concerts. On Thursday, Feb. 20, 2003, 100 people were killed in West Warwick, R.I. when The Station nightclub's sound insulation caught fire due to a stray pyrotechnic flame from Great White's stage show.
Once the initial spark took, it didn't take long for the club to become fully-engulfed, sending most of the audience into a panicked frenzy trying to escape the blaze. In addition to the 100 people who perished in the incident, there were an additional 230 people injured in the blaze. Meanwhile, another 132 people escaped the venue free of injury.
The Jack Russell-led version of Great White had just started their performance when the band's tour manager, Daniel Biechele, set off the pyrotechnics as the group performed their song 'Desert Moon.' Though the fire happened in 2003, Biechele's case didn't go to trial until 2006. The emotional former manager pled guilty to over 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter
In his statement to the court, Biechele explained, "For three years, I've wanted to be able to speak to the people that were affected by this tragedy, but I know there's nothing that I can say or do that will undo what happened that night. Since the fire I have wanted to tell the victims and their families how truly sorry I am for what happened that night and the part I had in it. I never wanted anyone to be hurt in any way. I never imagined that anyone ever would be … I'm so sorry for what I have done and I don't want to cause anyone any more pain. I will never forget that night and I will never forget the people that were hurt by it. I am so sorry."
For his part in the incident, Biechele was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with four years mandatory to serve and the final 11 years suspended. However, he was granted an early release in September of 2007 after some of the victims' families spoke on his behalf. By March 2008, Biechele was released from jail.
In addition, The Station nightclub's owners Jeffrey A. and Michael A. Derderian were fined $1.07 million for failing to carry workers compensation insurance for their employees, four of whom died in the blaze. Much like Biechele, the Derderian brothers were sentenced for their roles in the blaze. Michael's sentence was 15 years, with four to serve and 11 suspended, while Jeffrey's was a 10-year suspended sentence with three years' probation and 500 hours of community service. In 2008, Michael Derderian was granted an early release from prison and by June 2009 he was released.
As for Great White, they suffered the loss of their guitarist Ty Longley in the blaze and were deeply affected by the tragedy. In the time since, the band has played many a benefit tour. They also offered a $1 million settlement to survivors and their families, the maximum amount allowed under their insurance plan.
Memories of the tragic Station fire were recalled recently when more that 230 people perished in a nightclub in Brazil earlier this month. However, for American audiences, the Station fire remains one of rock music's most horrific incidents.
On the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, Loudwire reflects and send our prayers to the families and victims of those affected by The Station nightclub fire.