Hospitalized Victim Of Great White Club Fire Dies

Great White singer's lawyer says his client will ask for immunity in exchange for grand jury testimony.

The first victim hospitalized after last week's tragic nightclub fire in Rhode Island has died.

Linda Suffoletto was pronounced dead at 5:17 a.m. Friday (February 28) at Massachusetts General Hospital, according to a hospital spokesperson. The specific cause of death was not released at press time.

Suffoletto's passing brings the death toll back up to 97, after it had been lowered by one on Thursday due to a miscalculation. Sixty people remain hospitalized, 30 of them in critical condition.

On Tuesday, the surviving members of Great White — singer Jack Russell, bassist David Filice, guitarist Mark Kendall and drummer Eric Powers — were issued subpoenas to appear before a grand jury in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. The bandmembers and their tour manager began arriving Tuesday evening at the National Guard training center Camp Fogarty, where the grand jury is convening, for questioning about the events of February 20, when fire tore through the Station club in West Warwick during the band's set (see "Guitarist Ty Longley Among 97 Dead In Great White Club Fire").

Russell's lawyer Neil Philbin said his client would ask for immunity in exchange for his grand jury testimony, according to the Associated Press. Although the grand jury convened Wednesday, no one has testified at press time, sources told the wire service. Attorneys for the band and other witnesses have been meeting with prosecutors.

Several unidentified witnesses are also expected to present testimony and evidence to aid investigators in their search for who is to blame for the disaster. The grand jury proceedings are closed to the public.

As can be viewed from video footage of the fire, flames crept up the foam-insulated wall behind the stage as the band performed, then spread throughout the club within three minutes. Investigators are seeking to determine whether the type of insulation contributed to the inferno.

The soundproofing foam insulation was donated to the club in 2000, and had only been on the walls for approximately 18 months, unidentified Station employees told The New York Times. The newspaper also reported that the insulation may not have been the flame-retardant kind required by fire codes, and was instead a cheaper, urethane-based variety that did not meet safety standards.

Forensics tests are being conducted on samples of the foam collected at the charred site.

The dispute over whether the band had permission to use the pyrotechnic display that started the fire continues to rage. In a news conference Wednesday, the Station's stage manager and sound engineer, Paul Vanner, claimed Great White's pyrotechnic display lasted longer than those he had seen from other bands. While the duration of most displays he's seen at the Station was about a second or so, Great White's effects lasted for about 20 seconds.

Vanner also said he expressed his concern about the use of pyrotechnics to Station co-owner Michael Derderian nearly three months ago. He also said that for each of the dozen shows staged at the venue that used pyrotechnics, he was given advance notice for all except the one by Great White.

Neither Vanner nor Station manager Kevin Beese had been served subpoenas at press time, though both are expected to testify at some point.

Meanwhile, two funds have been established for Great White's guitarist Ty Longley, who perished in the fire, by Longley's family and the band's label, Knight Records. Monies from both the Ty Longley Foundation and the Ty Longley Fund will benefit a variety of causes Longley's parents think their son would have wanted to help, in addition to establishing a trust fund for his unborn child.

Both funds are expected to be operational on Saturday. At that time, more information can be obtained at www.tylongleyfoundation.com. Information or suggestions regarding additional benefits should be directed to foundationinfo@aol.com.