By Louis C, Hochman
Originally published in the Kent County and Warwick Daily Times · June 15, 2007
It was never about the money. Not really.
Ultimately, through court proceedings — or, more likely, a series of settlements — the family members of the Station nightclub fire’s 100 fatalities, as well as the 200 or so who were injured, are sure to receive some sort of financial compensation, probably from a number of entities with varying levels of culpability. Hopefully, it’ll be in generous amounts; it certainly won’t be enough.
But those who have been anxiously awaiting progression of the Station fire civil suits haven’t been looking ahead to the monetary reimbursement; they’ve been waiting for that which no financial reward can provide: closure.
The victims of the Station fire were cheated when Daniel Biechele — who, as Great White’s tour manager, set off the pyrotechnics that led to one of the most tragic disasters in Rhode Island’s history — entered a plea arrangement that sent him to jail for four years.They were cheated again when brothers Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, owners of the club, entered into their own plea arrangements — ones that ensured only the former would see the inside of a prison, while the latter would perform community service. Not only did some of those most responsible for the blaze escape the lengthy sentences many felt they deserved, they escaped obligation to tell their stories under oath — to answer the questions that have been lingering in the minds of all those affected by the Station for more than four years.
It’s not clear that the Derderians or Biechele can offer any new information of substance about the fire itself; the night of the blaze has been analyzed with extraordinary scrutiny. Verbose volumes of evidence — complete with photographs, depositions of those involved, video of the fire, audio of emergency responder communications, and even normally secret grand jury testimony — have been released to media and the public; one more batch of information is on the way. It’s well understood how the fire started, and how it spread. The information available for public consumption is disturbing in its detail.
But if the Derderians and Biechele are put under oath — as lawyers representing some 300 victims and victims’ families in the civil cases are requesting – they can be asked questions no one else can answer: How could you? What were you thinking? Why did you make the choices that let this happen?
And the Derderians and Biechele might be able to offer insight into questions more relevant to the execution of justice: Who else might be responsible? Who else could have stopped this from happening, but failed to?
The survivors and surviving families deserve to hear whatever answers, no matter how inadequate, the Derderians and Biechele can offer. Too much effort has been put into keeping them off the stand — whether for their own protection or under the pretense of protecting victims who couldn’t bear to see the case belabored.
But leaving questions both unasked and unanswered has caused the Station fire’s victims far more pain than any recounting of the tragedy ever could. It’s time to help those left behind to heal.
It’s time for the Derderians and Biechele to take the stand.