NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES
WEST WARWICK, R.I., Feb. 22 — As officials finished recovering the bodies Saturday of all 96 people killed after a fireworks display at a rock concert triggered an inferno, a criminal investigation was under way to determine if any charges should be filed in connection with the tragedy. The owners of The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, denied giving a rock band permission to use the fireworks, although the band’s singer insisted the use of pyrotechnics was approved.
IN A TEARFUL news conference, Jeffrey Derberian, co-owner of The Station nightclub said the band Great White was not given permission to use pyrotechnics. “It was a total shock to me to see the pyrotechnics go off when Great White took the stage,” he told reporters. “I tried to get people out safely...please know that I tried,” Derberian said. “My family and I continue to pray for the victims and their families.” Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri said Saturday that he believed all the bodies had been removed from the ruins of the building. “We’re pretty well convinced there are no additional bodies there,” he said. Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said Friday a criminal investigation was under way to determine if any charges should be filed in connection with the deadly inferno in West Warwick, about 15 miles southwest of Providence. "There could be a whole menu of charges,” he said. “It could be manslaughter, it could be murder, it could be simple assault.”
The heavy metal band was playing its first song late Thursday when fireworks began spraying the stage with sparks. Within minutes, the venue was engulfed in flames and thick, black smoke. Ninety-six people were burned to death or crushed in their frantic fight to escape; some 200 others were injured, 35 of them critically. The ages of the victims ranged from the teens to the late 30s. As of Saturday evening, 15 had been positively identified. Carcieri appealed to area dentists to help in the identification process.
The club’s owners say they were never told of Great White’s plan to use pyrotechnics, a claim echoed by at least four other venues where Great White played in the past month. “No permission was ever requested by the band or its agents to use pyrotechnics at The Station, and no permission was ever given,” said Kathleen Hagerty, a lawyer representing club owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, who are brothers. But Ed McPherson, the band’s attorney, said the musicians had verbal permission to set off the fireworks, and the band’s singer, Jack Russell, said Great White’s manager Dan Biechele had made sure the use of pyrotechnics was approved. Paul Woolnough, president of Great White’s management company, said Biechele “always checks” with club officials before pyrotechnics are used. Biechele could not be located for comment. The Rhode Island show was part of the band’s nationwide tour. Great White used pyrotechnics during three other shows — Feb. 7 at the Pinellas Park Expo Center near Tampa, Fla.; Feb. 13 in Allentown, Pa.; and Tuesday in Bangor, Maine — without discussing it with promoters or the venue, according to concert organizers or their spokesmen. Domenic Santana, the owner of the Stone Pony club in Asbury Park, N.J., said Great White failed to tell him they were using pyrotechnics during a Valentine’s Day show.
In the small state of Rhode Island the tragedy has had a tremendous impact in part because so many seemed to have connections to the victims. NBC’s Pat Dawson reports. “Our stage manager didn’t even know it until it was done,” said Santana. “My sound man freaked out because of the heat and everything, and they jeopardized the health and the safety of our patrons.”
TWO FACTORS IN DEATHS
Fire Chief Charles Hall told reporters at the site Friday afternoon, “If there were sprinklers in this building, we would not be here right now.” The one-story wood building, which was at least 60 years old, was not required to have a sprinkler system because it was “grand fathered” under a 1976 requirement. The building did have a fire alarm and emergency lighting, which operated during the fire, according to Hall.
The fire chief attributed the deaths primarily to two factors. One was that “any pyrotechnics in the interior of a combustible building are unsafe.” The second: Those attending the concert didn’t know where to find all of the building’s exits. “The main concentration of victims was at the front door,” Hall said. “Many people who came to this concert last night, it was their first time at the Station Club. Being creatures of habit, people would have a tendency to try to get out the same way they came in, not being cognizant of the fact that we had three other operating fire exits.” He said the club had a maximum legal occupancy of 300 and added, “There was slightly under that number in the building at the time of the fire.”
15 VICTIMS IDENTIFIED
Authorities warned it could take time to identify the victims. At hospitals around the region, anguished relatives pleaded for help in finding loved ones they feared were lost. The governor said 15 of the dead have been identified. Concertgoer John Schmidt told “Today” that many people were slow to evacuate the building because it initially looked as if the fire were part of the show.
A TV news crew inside the club doing a follow-up story to the Chicago fire filmed part of the tragedy before escaping. “People were trying to help others and people were smashing out windows, and people were pulling on people and nobody cared how many cuts they got, nobody cared about the bruises or the burns,” said WPRI-TV cameraman Brian Butler. “They just wanted out of the building.”
Butler kept his camera rolling as he rushed to the club’s front door; once outside, he ran around to the back, capturing thick black smoke and flames rolling through that exit.
‘IT WENT UP SO FAST’
Robin Petrarca of Warwick said she was within 5 feet of the door, but the billowing smoke was so thick, she couldn’t see the exit. In the rush to escape, she fell and was trampled, but made it out moments later. “I never knew a place could burn so fast,” she said. “There was nothing they could do, it went up so fast.”
It was the second deadly U.S. club disaster in four days. Early Sunday, 21 people were killed and more than 50 injured during a stampede in a Chicago nightclub that began when a security guard used pepper spray to break up a fight. The Rhode Island blaze was the deadliest U.S. fire since 87 people died at the Happy Land Social Club in New York in 1990, a fire authorities blamed on arson.
Source: The Associated Press; World Almanac; InfoPlease Almanac, Facts on File Printable version
Even experts can’t always
predict a crowd-related tragedy,
but these tips could help you get out alive if a crowd you’re in ever gets out of control.
1) If you're attending a ticketed event, like a concert or game, leave a copy of your ticket and details with someone at home. If an incident does occur, they'll know how to locate you to make sure you're ok.
2) Don't plan on going to a crowded event alone. You should always have at least one other person looking out for you. A helping hand in a crush or a stampede can mean the difference between life and death if you've fallen or become injured.
3) Being in the middle of an active crowd can get hot, so drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated. This can prevent overheating and passing out if things get too close for comfort.
1) Experts suggest wearing something bright and recognizable so friends and family can better locate you.
2) It's also smart to bring your ID, special medical information, and if you have one, a cell phone.
3) Leave behind dangerous accessories like spikes and chains, as well as long jewelry and purses which can become tangled and cause injuries.
4) Wear comfortable footwear, and make sure the laces are tied so you don't trip and fall. If you lose your shoes in a crush or stampede, don't stop to get them. Getting knocked down is the last thing you want to happen.
1) When you get to a venue, keep track of where the exits are located. In a stampede, the closest exit might not always be the best one to use.
2) Be aware of your surroundings like the location of first aid stations, the presence of security workers, how the crowd is behaving, and what the weather is like.
3) Be careful of what you're standing on. Wet, muddy and uneven ground can be slippery or hazardous in a moving crowd. Broken bottles, cans, and other debris are also dangerous.
4) Be careful walking down stairs, escalators, and hills. These are places where the momentum of a moving crowd can change, causing you to trip and fall – and be trampled.
5) Don't stand near or climb on temporary structures, which could collapse under too much weight.
6) If you can help it, don't be the first in line waiting for the doors to open. This spot can be dangerous if there's a delay and an anxious crowd starts to push forward.
1) A surge or stampede generates an incredible amount of energy. Experts compare it to a locomotive: once it gets going, it's hard to stop. If you find yourself in the middle don't stand still or sit down – you can easily get trampled. Keep your legs moving in the direction of the crowd, and try getting to the outside where the flow is weaker.
2) The last thing you want to do is fall. But if you do, get up quickly. If you can't, get someone to pull you back up. This is when having a friend nearby can be a lifesaver.
3) If you can't get up, keep moving by crawling in the direction of the crowd. If that's not possible, your last resort is to ball up and cover your head.
4) Sometimes, high energy crowds create an ebb and flow of people that could sweep you off your feet. Fighting against these "waves" will probably knock you over, so keep your legs moving, try not to fall, and take advantage of any space that may open up in front of you. If you're lucky, you may be able to work yourself to the side where the crowd is weaker.
5) The worst place in a surge is at the very front of the crowd against an immovable object, like a fence or stage barricade. It may be tempting to make your way up close to where the action is on stage. But it's smart to stay away. Crowd pressure here can build up quickly and be deadly. People in back will have no idea what's happening up front.
1) Some of the worst crowd tragedies happen at sporting events, where overselling, poor management, frenzied fans, and festival seating all create problems.
2) Experts say when you go to a game, watch from a seat, not the aisles or walkways where foot traffic flows. And keep away from fences, boards, or barricades where there's no escape if fans behind try to rush the field or court.
3) Be aware of what's going on around you, like crowd behavior, what the score is, and how much time is remaining. It might be smart to leave a few minutes early to avoid the reaction of frenzied fans.
1) Most crowd accidents happen in "standing room only" or festival style events, where there are no assigned seats. Problems like early arrivals, rushing in to claim space, crushes at gates and stage areas, and trampling are far more common.
2) If you're bringing small children, it's best to avoid this type of seating all together, so check your tickets beforehand. If possible, try and upgrade your ticket to general admission or reserved seating. It's usually a much safer bet.
Source: Crowd management experts: Larry Perkins, Patrick McCarthy
International Association of Assembly Managers