Great White Manager, Club Owners Hit With Criminal Charges

Each faces 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from fire.

Great White's tour manager and the owners of the Station club were indicted Tuesday (December 9), and each was charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter -- two counts for each person who died in the February 20 blaze ignited by the band's onstage pyrotechnics, according to the Rhode Island attorney general's office.

Dan Biechele and nightclub owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian face the first criminal charges to stem from the tragedy that occurred minutes into the hard rock band's set, when pyrotechnic special effects ignited flammable foam the club was using for soundproofing. The cumulative charges are split evenly between involuntary manslaughter with criminal negligence and involuntary manslaughter in violation of a misdemeanor. Both are felony offenses.

A grand jury deliberated for nine months before rendering its report to Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel. After the victims' families were informed, Attorney General Patrick Lynch went public with the indictments at a press conference.

The defendants all pleaded innocent at an arraignment held in Kent County Superior Court. The Derderians' bail was set at $50,000, while bail for Biechele, a Florida resident, reached $100,000.

While it may seem strange that the bandmembers themselves don't face criminal charges, their attorney, Ed McPherson, explained that Biechele was responsible for the agreements Great White had with venues regarding the use of pyrotechnics. "The band did not always know from night to night when they would use pyro," he said.

However, Great White and the Derderians were fined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in August (see [article id="1477119"]"Great White, Station Owners Fined By Fed For Deadly Fire"[/article]), and the owners were separately fined more than $1 million by Rhode Island's labor department in April (see [article id="1471189"]"Owners of Rhode Island's Station Club Fine $1.06 Million"[/article]).

Biechele and the Derderians' indictments were forecasted in a Boston Globe article in August (see [article id="1476989"]"Great White Likely To Escape Criminal Charges In Fire Case"[/article]). Defense lawyers told the paper the defendants would likely be found guilty because their actions exhibited "reckless or wanton" conduct.

Attorneys for the defendants did not return calls by press time.

Besides those who died, approximately 200 others were injured in the blaze that consumed the club in a matter of minutes. The Providence Journal alleged in September that the venue was past its legal capacity (see [article id="1479273"]"Deadly Great White Show Oversold by Almost 100 People, Paper Says"[/article]), which would have made it more difficult for those trapped by flames to escape.

Dozens of civil lawsuits totaling more than $1 billion are still pending against the club, the band, the manufacturers of the polyurethane foam that fueled the fire, the radio station that promoted the show and even the beer company that sponsored it (see [article id="1471693"]"Great White Dropped From First Nightclub Fire Lawsuit"[/article]).