The two brothers who owned and operated the Rhode Island nightclub where a fire killed 100 concertgoers in 2003 were sentenced Friday (September 29) — but only one will serve time behind bars.
According to The Associated Press, relatives of the victims killed in the Station nightclub fire responded with outrage and berated Judge Francis Darigan when he sentenced Michael Derderian to serve four years in minimum-security prison; Jeffrey was spared any hard time.
The sentences were the result of plea bargains announced last week (see "Station Club Owners Accept Plea Deal In Great White Concert Fire Case"). The Derderians pleaded no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the blaze that was sparked by onstage pyrotechnics during a performance by Great White. The pyrotechnics ignited highly flammable soundproofing foam, and the fire spread quickly. Great White guitarist Ty Longley was among those who perished in the fire (see "Guitarist Ty Longley Among 97 Dead In Great White Club Fire").
Darigan refused to reconsider the plea bargains, AP reports, adding that they'd help to circumvent a long and emotional trial. But the victims' relatives told the wire service they were angered by both sentences.
"Lady Justice in Rhode Island is blind, but she's also deaf," Jay McLaughlin, the brother-in-law of victims Sandy and Michael Hoogasian, testified. Before he was sentenced, Jeffrey Derderian's face was covered in tears as he expressed regret for the heartache he helped cause, according to AP.
"The fire moved so fast. I was scared. I wish I did a better job," he was quoted as saying. "There are many days that I wish I didn't make it out of that building, because if I didn't, maybe some of these families would feel better. I know you would have liked it if I died too."
Michael Derderian was also remorseful for what happened inside his club, saying, "We will do everything we can so that every question can be answered — so that all the facts, not just some of them, come out." All along, the Derderians have claimed they were unaware the soundproofing foam was flammable.
"If I had known now what that foam was, we definitely would have done things differently," Michael said. "We would have never ever put our patrons, our employees, our families and our friends at risk."
The Derderians and Great White's former tour manager, Daniel Biechele, were indicted December 9, 2003, on 200 counts each of involuntary manslaughter — two counts for each person who died in the Station fire (see "Great White Manager, Club Owners Hit With Criminal Charges"). Biechele was sentenced to four years in prison in May (see "Great White Tour Manager Gets Four Years For Role In Blaze").