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Plea Deal in Nightclub Fire

Only one of the owners will spend time in prison for the Rhode Island blaze that left 100 dead.

September 21, 2006|From the Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The owners of a nightclub where a 2003 fire killed 100 people will plead no contest to involuntary manslaughter charges, and only one will have to serve prison time, their lawyer said Wednesday. Victims' relatives were outraged.

Kathleen Hagerty said brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian will enter the pleas more than 3 1/2 years after pyrotechnics ignited foam soundproofing as a 1980s heavy metal band started playing at The Station nightclub.

Hagerty confirmed that Michael Derderian will serve four years in a minimum-security prison, where he will be eligible for a work release program, and that Jeffrey Derderian will receive a suspended 10-year sentence.

Relatives of those killed were furious about what they considered light punishments for the brothers' role in the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history, a tragedy that touched untold thousands of people in the nation's smallest state.

"I can't believe the attorney general is just going to stand by and say OK to this," said Diane Mattera, whose 29-year-old daughter, Tammy Mattera-Housa, died in the fire.

Hagerty confirmed the pleas after WJAR-TV and the Providence Journal reported on a letter Atty. Gen. Patrick C. Lynch wrote to families of those killed to announce the plea deal. A spokesman for Lynch did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Lynch says in the letter that he objects to the sentences that Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr. has said he will give the Derderians.

"Most significantly, I strongly disagree with the court's intention to sentence Jeffrey Derderian to less than jail," he wrote. He added, however, that the plea deals mean the brothers are accepting criminal responsibility "despite months of denials."

The Derderians will change their pleas on Sept. 29 and could be sentenced that day, according to the letter.

Many relatives of victims, including Robert Bruyere, whose stepdaughter, Bonnie Hamelin, died in the fire, said they learned about the plea from news reports.

The plea comes as jury selection was underway for Michael Derderian's criminal trial; his brother's trial was to have followed.

"All I can say is that Jeffrey and Michael Derderian are looking to put a resolution to this and to avoid any further pain to any of the victims' families or survivors of the tragedy," Hagerty said.

She said Michael Derderian is to receive a tougher sentence than his brother because he is the one who bought the foam.

The fire on Feb. 20, 2003, at the West Warwick nightclub began when pyrotechnics used by the band Great White ignited the soundproofing foam placed around the stage.

The flames quickly spread to foam that lined the walls and ceiling, enveloping the one-story wooden building in moments, trapping concertgoers.

The guitarist for the band was among those killed, and more than 200 people were injured.

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