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Bells Peal for Those Who Died in Nightclub Blaze

New England churches honor victims as death toll reaches 98. Guitarist is mourned in Ohio.

March 03, 2003|From Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Churches across Rhode Island and Massachusetts tolled their bells 98 times Sunday -- a solemn reminder of a nightclub fire that claimed as many lives, including a woman who succumbed to her burn injuries the day before.

Kelly Viera, 40, died Saturday at Shriners Hospital, raising the fire's death toll by one, a spokeswoman for affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital said Sunday.

Her uncle William Kelly sat in a driving rain outside Grace Church, waiting to hear the bells peal for his lost niece. "I keep asking the Lord, 'Why'?" said Kelly, 57. "She was such a sweetheart."

Viera and her husband, Scott, were among more than 300 people who had packed into the Station nightclub in West Warwick to hear the 1980s heavy metal band Great White. Scott Viera, a club employee, escaped.

"He's beating himself up because he managed to get out and she didn't," Kelly said.

Meanwhile, mourners wearing black ribbons with "Rock on, Ty" printed in silver packed a remote church in Hubbard, Ohio, to remember Great White guitarist Ty Longley, who also died in the Feb. 20 fire.

"Ty is now free to tour the world," band manager Paul Wollnough told the crowd at Corner House Christian Church, where hundreds filed in from the freezing drizzle outside. None of the four surviving band members attended the service, about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland.

The band, which Longley joined four years ago, hopes to release a collection of music Longley recorded with Great White and others in about a month, Wollnough said after the service.

Investigators suspect Great White's pyrotechnics ignited soundproofing foam, triggering a fire that swept through the Station in minutes as panicked concertgoers tried to flee. A grand jury is investigating the blaze; no charges have been filed. Still at issue is whether the band had permission to use the pyrotechnics.

As of Sunday, 51 people injured in the fire remained hospitalized in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including 33 in critical condition.

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