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Owners of Nightclub Where Fire Killed 100 Fined $85,200

U.S. safety regulators give a $7,000 citation to the band Great White, whose pyrotechnics ignited the worst blaze in Rhode Island history.

August 21, 2003|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — The federal agency that regulates workplace safety found on Wednesday that the owners of a Rhode Island nightclub where 100 people perished in a fire in February committed "willful and serious violations" of federal safety regulations.

The citation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, levied a fine of $85,200 against the club owners, Jeffrey and Michael Derderian.

In addition, the band Great White, whose pyrotechnic display ignited the fatal blaze, was fined $7,000. Jack Russell Touring, the company that owns Great White, was cited for failing to safeguard employees against fire hazards from the pyrotechnic display that opened the band's Feb. 20 concert at the Station nightclub.

A lawyer for the Derderians did not return a call to his office Wednesday.

But Edward McPherson, a Los Angeles lawyer who represents Great White, said Wednesday that he was "disappointed" by the OSHA penalty.

"I don't think it's appropriate," McPherson said.

More than 400 music fans were packed into the Station when the band's pyrotechnic display ignited a foam wall. Flames spread quickly, destroying the wooden structure in minutes.

In addition to the 100 fatalities, about 200 people were injured. The fire was the worst in Rhode Island history and one of the most devastating club fires in the country.

A Rhode Island grand jury is continuing to investigate the disaster.

Members of the band as well as the Derderians and their company, Derco, also have been named in dozens of civil lawsuits filed by fire survivors and relatives of those who perished.

The OSHA citation was filed six months to the day after the fire, as many family members and survivors prepared for memorial services at the site in West Warwick, just south of Providence, and at a nearby YMCA.

An OSHA spokesman in Boston said the charges were filed Wednesday because six months is the agency's statutory limit for bringing such action.

Among the violations listed in the OSHA complaint were an exit door that swung the wrong way and the placement of "highly flammable foam" on an exit door and surrounding walls.

OSHA describes a willful violation as one "committed with intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to" federal safety and health regulations.

Fire survivor Walter Castle Jr. said Wednesday that he escaped by ripping the reverse-swinging door off its hinges.

"I was in a panic, a total panic," said Castle, a gas station attendant. "It was either me do that or me die. And I did not want to die."

Castle said he was pleased that the federal agency had taken action.

"I think it's awesome," he said. "The Derderians should have realized everything about their nightclub. If they got hit with a heavy fine, they deserve it."

The OSHA complaint also faults the band for storing unused fireworks too close to those that were set off. The citation also contends that Great White did not have a plan for the fireworks display and did not have proper pyrotechnic operator licensing.

The band also was charged with failing to separate the fireworks from the audience by a required distance of 15 feet. The OSHA citation also notes that smoking was allowed "within 25 feet of the pyrotechnics."

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