15 Years Ago: Great White Concert Fire Kills 100 People
On Feb. 20, 2003, during a Great White show at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., 100 people lost their lives and over 200 were injured in a fire caused by the band's pyrotechnic display.
During the show's opening number, the band's road manager, Daniel Biechele, set off the pyrotechnics, as planned. The sparks unexpectedly ignited the foam used for soundproofing the ceiling of the club. The flames spread quickly, engulfing the club, and claiming the lives of many of those trying to escape.
Former Great White front man Jack Russell continues to be haunted by the events that occurred that night. On the 10th anniversary of the tragedy he was quoted as saying, "My heart aches for all the families and friends of the victims whose lives will forever be changed by this terrible tragedy. I too lost many friends that night, but I can’t begin to equate that to the loss of a family member. For what it’s worth, you have been in my prayers and always will be.”
On Feb. 7, 2013, Russell performed a benefit concert to mark the anniversary of the tragedy, with all proceeds going to the victims families. However in a sign of the pain and acrimony that still remains from this tragic event, the Station Fire Memorial Foundation refused to accept any money from Russell, stating, "We feel the upset caused by his involvement would outweigh the amount of funds received."
Many of the surviving victims, and the families of those killed, felt Russell had not done enough to apologize or atone for his part in the tragedy. As Gina Russo, a concertgoer who was burned in the fire explained to the Boston Globe, "Everyone would look at this differently if Jack Russell would stand up and say, ‘I’m sorry.'"
When asked if he feels horrible about the tragedy in a 2013 interview with Rover Radio, Russell answered, "Of course I do." He goes on to explain his reluctance to discuss the matter further: "I've said everything that I ever want to say about it, I've done a million interviews ... every time I say something, I hurt somebody ... I just prefer not to talk about it. It was a horrible thing that happened."
The owners of the Station nightclub were found guilty of one hundred counts of involuntary manslaughter, and have used varying charitable methods to atone for the disaster. Representing the families of the deceased, lawyer John Barylick negotiated a 176 million dollar civil settlement from, as he puts it, "the persons and corporations responsible for the fire."
Biechele pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the tragedy. He sent a handwritten letter of apology to each of the families affected by the fire. Partially in return for this openness and admission of responsibility, many of those same families publicly supported his early parole, which was granted about halfway through his sentence.
Sadly enough, it seems the music world has not fully learned from the Station's brutal example. in January 2013, a eerily similar disaster played out in a Brazil nightclub, resulting in the loss of more than 230 lives.