Victims' Families File Suit Over Rhode Island Club Fire Disaster

Families of Donald Roderiques, 46, and Tina Ayer, 33, bring wrongful death actions against 14 defendants.

The first of what is expected to be a flurry of civil lawsuits pertaining to the Rhode Island nightclub fire was filed Tuesday in Rhode Island Superior Court on behalf of relatives of two victims lost in the tragedy.

Family members of Donald Roderiques, 46, and Tina Ayer, 33, brought wrongful death actions against 14 defendants, including members of the band Great White, their tour manager, owners of the Station nightclub, the town of West Warwick and its fire inspector, according to the complaint. Allegations of negligence, products liability, breach of warranties and violations of state law are cited.

The plaintiffs are hoping for a jury trial, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and costs. Attorney Brian Cunha told the Associated Press he would seek at least $1 million for each of the families.

The fire that erupted at the Station club on February 20, while the metal band Great White had just begun their performance, took the lives of 98 people and left more than 180 people injured (see "Another Hospitalized Victim of Rhode Island Club Fire Dies"). The fire started when a spark from the band's pyrotechnic display ignited the soundproofing foam insulation that lined the walls of the club.

American Foam Corp., which manufactured and sold the foam insulation to the Station, is also named in the suit for allegedly failing to warn the club owners that the product they sold them was not flame-retardant.

Great White and their tour manager, Dan Biechele, are accused of negligence for using the pyrotechnics, while Station owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian allegedly failed to obtain a license for the use of pyrotechnics; neglected to install fire-resistant soundproofing material; and didn't maintain, inspect and manage emergency lighting and exit signs at the club. The suit also claims that Station manager Paul Vanner warned the Derderians of the dangers inherent in using pyrotechnics at the club.

Great White contend they had been allowed to use the fiery effects in their stage show, while the Derderians maintain that the band used them without permission. An investigation by local, state and federal authorities is underway.

West Warwick and its fire inspector, Denis Larocque, are being accused of not indicating the presence of flammable soundproofing material during previous fire inspections. Larocque, a 25-year veteran of the West Warwick Fire Department, last inspected the club in December and cited the owners for a series of violations that were subsequently remedied.

Cunha plans to amend the suit to include the families of other victims later this week.

State Rep. Tim Williamson, also the town solicitor of West Warwick, told the AP that the civil lawsuit was premature, given that a criminal investigation is still pending.

Neither the band's lawyers nor attorneys for the Derderians returned calls for comment by press time.

Meanwhile, Great White guitarist Mark Kendall gave his account of the events to a grand jury on Tuesday, according to statements made to WBZ-TV. Kendall spoke to the TV crew just before boarding a plane at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, and added that he expected to return. Bassist David Filice was also spotted leaving the National Guard compound in East Greenwich, where the grand jury convened, though it's not known if he, too, had testified.

MTV News will revisit the recent nightclub tragedies in Rhode Island and Chicago and explore club safety issues in a special edition of "The Wrap" premiering Sunday (March 9) at 9:30 p.m. on MTV2. The special MTV News report will air again Tuesday (March 11) at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday (March 12) at 12:30 p.m., Friday (March 14) at 1 p.m., and Saturday (March 15) at 7:30 p.m. on MTV2.