Great White Likely To Escape Criminal Charges In Fire Case

Investigators say singer Jack Russell not responsible for setting up, shooting off sparks.

A criminal investigation into a nightclub inferno that killed 100 people in February is nearing the halfway point, and it looks like the club owners and Great White’s road manager are going to take the fall, according to an article in the Boston Globe.

The fire at West Warwick, Rhode Island’s Station club erupted when Great White’s pyrotechnics display ignited the venue’s flammable soundproofing, sparking a blaze that leveled the small building in minutes.

The grand jury criminal proceedings are secret, but defense attorneys in the case have indicated that club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian and Great White’s road manager, Daniel Biechele, will likely be indicted for involuntary manslaughter when the investigation wraps up in October, the Boston Globe reported.

However, Great White will likely get off scot-free. According to the newspaper, investigators established that singer Jack Russell approved the devices the band used but was not responsible for setting up or shooting off the sparks.

“I don’t believe the facts will establish the necessary recklessness or criminal intent to support an indictment [of the band],” Russell’s attorney, Neil Philbin, said on Tuesday (August 19).

Defense lawyers told the Globe that the Derderians and Biechele will probably be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter because their actions exhibited “reckless or wanton” conduct, the criteria established in 1942 to convict the owner of the Coconut Grove, a Boston nightclub that burned down, killing 492 people.

If the Derderians are found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the conviction may stem mostly from negligence they exhibited by installing flammable foam insulation for soundproofing. However, Jeffrey Pine, an attorney for Jeffrey Derderian, said there’s no way of knowing at this point which way the grand jury will rule, and he proclaimed his client innocent.

“I don’t think the evidence is there to support a criminal charge,” he said. “I’m not sure the [issue regarding the soundproofing is] a criminal matter. That might be a civil matter with the distributor of the foam. But I don’t think using foam is criminal.”

Biechele’s alleged criminal misconduct involves shooting off pyro without securing necessary permits from the state fire marshal and the West Warwick Fire Department. That in itself qualifies as a misdemeanor under state law, but Biechele, 26, could also face involuntary manslaughter charges for reckless or wanton behavior.

“I don’t think the tour manager came up with the idea on his own to have a pyro display,” argued Pine. “I would think he took direction from someone above him, and if that’s the case, the person who authorized the pyro show should be on the hook also.”

Biechele’s lawyer was not available for comment.