The Station nightclub fire: What happened and who's to blame?

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In 2003, 100 people died and over 200 were injured at a rock concert in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

"We went out on a Thursday night to listen to music, drink some beers and have a good time. And a quarter of those people didn't get to go home — ever," says survivor Linda Saran, who was severely burned in the fire at The Station nightclub.

The blaze began when the band Jack Russell's Great White took the stage and their tour manager set off four large fireworks. Flames soon appeared on the walls on either side of the stage and spread quickly along the foam that lined the walls and ceiling, intended to dampen sound.

Nine months after the fire, the club's owners, brothers Jeff and Michael Derderian, along with Daniel Biechele, the band's tour manager, were each charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter. They all later accepted plea deals. Biechele pleaded guilty to 100 counts of misdemeanor manslaughter, and Michael and Jeff Derderian pleaded no contest. Biechele and Michael Derderian went to prison.

"We never knew the whole story because the trial never happened, so everything really never came out," says Jody King, whose brother worked at The Station as a bouncer.

Now, in an exclusive interview with "48 Hours" contributor Jim Axelrod, the Derderians say they want to set the record straight — and reveal new information about that foam and accountability. They say a critical piece of evidence was never presented to the grand jury.

"We wanted the full story to come out, not just some of it, and for people who want to … come to their own conclusion on what happened that night," says Jeff Derderian.

THE FIRE

On February 20, 2003 at about 11:10 p.m., Jody King got a call that something was going on at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island. But he didn't know what.

Jody King: Hopped out of bed, grabbed my clothes, grabbed my keys, hopped in the car and took off.

Jody King: I got to find Trace.

He was worried about his brother Tracy who worked there as a bouncer.

Jody King: As I went by the fire station … fire trucks are coming out … Now the question in my head is why are all these firetrucks leaving?

When King arrived, he saw the devastating scene.

The Station nightclub fire would become one of the deadliest fires in a club in U.S. history.
The Station nightclub fire would become one of the deadliest fires in a club in U.S. history.

Jody King: I see the horror. And it was ugly. The roof was caving in, walls were caving in, body after body in front of me. I don't even like to talk about it.

It would become one of the deadliest fires in a club in U.S. history.

Scott James: It should not have happened. It was completely preventable.

Scott James has written a book about the tragedy called "Trial by Fire."

Scott James: I decided I would start asking some questions.

Jim Axelrod: Describe The Station nightclub for me. What kind of club was this?

Scott James: It was a typical kind of roadside dive.

These are videos of prior performances taken inside the club.

Scott James: It smelled like spilled beer and stale cigarettes and everything was just a little bit frayed at the edge. … But it's fun.

The night of the fire, hundreds of people gathered at The Station to see the band Great White.
The night of the fire, hundreds of people gathered at The Station to see the band Great White.

The night of the fire, hundreds of people gathered at The Station to see Great White, an 80s band — now with some new members — lead by singer Jack Russell and known mainly for their hit "Once Bitten, Twice Shy."

Scott James: They had their moments. And they played the arenas. That was in like the 80s. … But, you know, they have this following to this day …

Jim Axelrod: Were you a fan of the band Great White?

Linda Saran: Yes. Definitely.

Linda Saran was a regular at The Station. That evening she had a girl's night out with a friend while her young daughter was at a sleepover.

Linda Saran: The night of the fire I got in for free. I was asked to work the merch table for the band, so I was getting 40 bucks and two T-shirts. And I was paying staff pricing for beer because I knew a guy.

Also there that night was Bates College student Phil Barr, who was home for winter break.

Phil Barr: You know … just have a beer, see a concert.

Barr, who was in his junior year, had dreams of a career on Wall Street and swam competitively for his college swim team.

Phil Barr: I loved it. It was really everything to me at that time.

Unlike many of the patrons there, this was Barr's first time at the club. He arrived early — around 8:30 p.m.

Phil Barr: There really weren't that many people around early in the night. So, I actually got a really good sense of the layout of the venue.

Scott James: When people arrive, they walk through this entrance and this kinda longish hallway. … You see on your left … the horseshoe-shaped bar. This is the main bar where you can get your drinks…. To the right is this much larger space in front of a stage.

The four exits inside The Station:  
The four exits inside The Station:

Scott James: You have four exits. … There's an exit near the stage. … We have an exit through the kitchen. … One near the bar. … And then the main exit that hallway where everyone came through.

The Station was owned by brothers Michael and Jeff Derderian. They are speaking out about the fire for the first time.

Their story starts three years before the fire.

Jim Axelrod: Did either of you know anything about running a nightclub?

Michael Derderian: Zero. … I couldn't play an instrument.

The Derderians bought the club as an investment.

Michael Derderian: Jeffrey was responsible for all the marketing activities. … And I was responsible for the day to day.

The Station was owned by brothers Jeff and Michael Derderian. / Credit: CBS News
The Station was owned by brothers Jeff and Michael Derderian. / Credit: CBS News

Both the brothers had other jobs. Michael owned a financial services business; Jeff was a local news reporter. For years, he worked in Boston for Channel 7.

At the time of the fire, he had just started a new job closer to home in Providence at the local CBS station. That night, he allowed a cameraman to shoot footage inside the club for an upcoming story about safety in public venues.

Jim Axelrod: How ironic is that?

Michael Derderian: Unbelievable.

Jeff Derderian: Right.

"48 Hours" is not showing any of that footage. But that night, leading the cameraman around was bouncer Tracy King, a dedicated husband and father of three young boys.

Jody King: He was gregarious. He was out there, and he just loved being in the center.

Tracy King liked to entertain people with his unique talent. A surgery to correct a childhood ailment with his ears left him able to balance objects on his chin.

Jody King: He went on David Letterman twice to do Stupid Human Tricks.

Jody King: When he walked into a room, if there wasn't a smile … he'd start balancing stuff to get you uplifted … and smiling. That was his gift.

Jody King says his brother enjoyed working for the Derderians. They were friends.

Jody King: He trusted the club. He trusted the owners. He trusted in his friends.

Jim Axelrod: Were you making money?

Michael Derderian: Not really.

The Derderians say despite their love for the club the business had peaked, and they were in the process of selling it.

Michael Derderian: The club was sold. The club was sold. It was already in contract. Purchase and sale had been signed.

But their plans for the future would suddenly change.

As Great White started their first song, their tour manager Daniel Biechele set off four large fireworks — called gerbs.

Scott James: They are what they call 15x15. They go for 15 seconds and they go 15 feet into the air. So, it was not a great decision to use these inside a nightclub that only has 12-foot ceilings.

It all started around 11 p.m. when the rock band Jack Russell's Great White took the stage and the group's tour manager, Daniel Biechele, set off four large fireworks called gerbs. Flames can be seen on the back wall. / Credit: Dan Davidson
It all started around 11 p.m. when the rock band Jack Russell's Great White took the stage and the group's tour manager, Daniel Biechele, set off four large fireworks called gerbs. Flames can be seen on the back wall. / Credit: Dan Davidson

Seconds later, flames appeared on the back wall.

Linda Saran: Most of the crowd thought it was part of the show and didn't move. … You know people didn't react … instantly.

But Jeff Derderian, who was helping out at the bar, says he and an employee tried to get to the stage with a fire extinguisher.

Jeff Derderian: We tried to get as far as we could. We couldn't make it.

The pyrotechnics ignited the walls on either side of the stage and within seconds flames spread along the foam that lined the walls and ceiling of the club intended to dampen sound.  / Credit: Dan Davidson
The pyrotechnics ignited the walls on either side of the stage and within seconds flames spread along the foam that lined the walls and ceiling of the club intended to dampen sound. / Credit: Dan Davidson

About 40 seconds after the song began, Great White stopped the show and all but one member of the band escaped through the stage door exit. That exit door would soon be engulfed in flames.

Scott James: The fire alarm … you hear it kick in. And that's when the crowd realizes this is a real danger and we have to get out of here.

Hundreds of people ran to the only exit many of them knew — the way they came in.

Linda Saran: It's like a riptide. It's like a surge of bodies.

The fire was now out of control; it had spread along the foam that lined the walls and ceiling intended to dampen sound.

Linda Saran: The foam was raining down and the flames are dripping from the ceiling. … It looked like it was raining black fire.

Scott James: They only have about 60 seconds to get out of the building if they're going to live.

THE DEVASTATION

Those who were trapped inside The Station when the flames started knew they needed to get out fast.

Phil Barr: I remember … the smoke descended really quickly.

One of those people was Phil Barr.

Phil Barr: We kind of crouched down behind some of the people in front of us. … you could not see your hand in front of your face. … That's how thick the smoke was. … once you could no longer see, it was total pandemonium.

Barr was located between the stage and the front door.

Phil Barr: A lot of people moved back towards the main entrance … it became really clear that we were not going to be able … [to] get out the front door. … Since I had been there earlier in the night, I knew that there was at least an exit in the back barroom. … That is the furthest exit away from the stage … But it's a relatively straight line.

Survivor Phil Barr arrived to The Station early the night of the concert.
Survivor Phil Barr arrived to The Station early the night of the concert.

Phil Barr: I … went around the … people trying to push to the front door. … into the main barroom. … I remember getting pushed from behind. … and I tripped over what I assume was a bar stool. … and I just kind of went down on my face. … it became very, very hard to breathe.

Lying on the floor not far from the horseshoe bar, Barr lost consciousness.

Linda Saran: The bar got quiet because people were dying literally … and all you could hear was the roar of the fire and liquor bottles exploding.

Linda Saran and her friend Deb were in the atrium, huddled together under a table.

Linda Saran: I said, "you know what? … We're running out of time." And I knew the window was to my left. So, I said to Deb, "stay here. … I'll be right back." And I stood up. I went over, put my hands against the glass, and I started kicking at that window and it wouldn't break. … I went and laid down next to Deb and just waited to die.

Jim Axelrod: Did you have enough time to form those complete thoughts?

Linda Saran: Yes. … I thought how terrible it was that my daughter was going to grow up without her mom. … And I hear [moves her arms to the side with a whoosh] … and out Deb went. It was like what? And outside I went. Cold air washing over me.

An off-duty police officer standing outside had heard her kicking at the window. He got a tire iron from his car, smashed the glass, and started pulling people out.

Linda Saran: When I first went out the window, I landed on the stairs. … I couldn't get up. And I said my hands won't work. … And that's when I noticed the black on my arms. It looked like a ladder of those black jelly bracelets from the 80s hanging in rings around my wrists. And I took a good look and I said, "Oh, s—t, I'm burned."

Phil Barr: I couldn't hear alarms. … I couldn't hear noise. I couldn't hear screaming anymore.

Barr says when he came to, he felt excruciating pain near the base of his spine and burning on his face.

Phil Barr: I don't like to talk about it, but I remember feeling weight on top of me, and I'm pretty sure I crawled out from under another person to pull myself up. I ran across the room and I ran face-first into the wall.

Phil Barr: … and I felt the door and I just heaved my shoulder into it. And I fell down the stairs, out that door.

Barr was now outside, but he felt like his lungs were on fire.

Phil Barr: It was getting harder and harder to breathe … I could feel tightness and constriction in my chest. … some bleeding I could notice in my throat.

Also outside was club owner Jeff Derderian. He says he managed to escape through the front door before a stampede of people got stuck in the narrow hallway and blocked the exit.

Jeff Derderian: I remember we were … trying to get … people away from the building. Like, "get away from the building." … it was happening so fast, fast, fast, fast. That's all I can keep seeing in my head. [tears up] … And the roof and just everything just fast, too fast. [tears up, shaking his head].

Jeff called his brother Michael who was in Florida.

Michael Derderian: He's completely out of it. Out of it. … I couldn't understand him or understand the magnitude of what was going on there.

Michael Derderian: And I'm saying to him … "Did everybody get out … Did anyone die?" … And he's like he don't know. He don't know. He don't know. He doesn't know.

Jody King: "Anybody see Tracy?" I have to find him.

At the scene, Jody King was desperate for information about his brother, and began to fear the worst.

Jody King: I spent the next five or six hours going back and forth in the parking lot talking to firemen, asking firemen, "can you please pull the sheets back for me? I don't care what I'm going to see."

Linda Saran and Phil Barr, badly injured, were transported to a local hospital.

NEWS REPORTS AS THE TOLL ESCALATED:

"We have 39 confirmed fatalities, and we are still in the process of searching the rubble."

"It is now well over 50."

"We are now at 65, and that may be higher …"

Jeff Derderian: "Can you come in? They want to talk to you." And I'm like, "OK."

The night of the fire Jeff Derderian gave a statement to the local police and another one to an investigator with the Attorney General's Office.

Michael Derderian: Remember, I'm still in Florida.

Michael Derderian also spoke via phone to an investigator.

Jim Axelrod: Do you feel, "Oh my goodness, we're in trouble?"

Jeff Derderian: No. No. Nope.

Jim Axelrod: Why?

Jeff Derderian: Because in my mind … I had nothing to hide. … if I had nothing to hide, then why wouldn't you — why wouldn't you talk to them and tell them what you knew or what you didn't know?

THE AFTERMATH

Three days after the station fire, Jody King finally got the news that his brother Tracy's body had been found. In the months and years that followed, Jody also learned about Tracy's heroic last moments.

Jody King: He ran in and came out nine times in 90 seconds.

Jim Axelrod: How do you know he went in nine times?

Tracy King worked at The Station as a bouncer. / Credit: Jody King
Tracy King worked at The Station as a bouncer. / Credit: Jody King

Jody King: Nine different families have come up to me and said … "thank you for having a great brother. He threw my wife, my cousin, my uncle, my sister out a window." [tearing up] "What a great brother you have. You should be proud." I am proud.

In the days after the fire, victims' families and survivors faced a harsh new reality. Phil Barr awoke after three weeks in a medically induced coma and was told his lungs had been badly damaged.

Jim Axelrod: When you come to, you're in a hospital room.

Phil Barr: Yep. … my dad was in the room. … I can't speak … Everything was, you know, sore and hoarse … I picked up the pen — in very weak, you know, kind of handwriting I wrote, "I hope to make progress every day."

Jim Axelrod: Where'd that come from?

Phil Barr: Don't know [tears up].

Phil Barr fought to breathe on his own. And then, ever so slowly, he learned to walk again. / Credit: Barr family
Phil Barr fought to breathe on his own. And then, ever so slowly, he learned to walk again. / Credit: Barr family

True to his words, Barr fought to breathe on his own. And then, ever so slowly, he learned to walk again.

But even more than walking, Phil wanted to return to swimming.

Phil Barr: I … asked my pulmonologist, you know, "when can I get back in the pool?" … he was very kind about it, but he said, "I don't ever see you competitively swimming again." … I refused to accept that as the outcome.

About a month after the fire Barr went home from the hospital. And the following year he was able to accomplish the impossible and rejoin his swim team.

He had an unlikely friend rooting for him.

Jim Axelrod: I want to ask you about Phil Barr. … How did you meet him?

Linda Saran: My hospital roommate, he and I took turns driving the respiratory therapist crazy … in some ways it's almost like being in war together. Like you feel that kinship that, you know, "God, I really hope this guy makes it." And yet, at the point in time, I don't think I knew his name.

Like Barr, Linda Saran had also spent three weeks in a medically induced coma.

Linda Saran: Second- and-third-degree burns, over 34 percent of my body from the heat. . So, the only way to pick up a can of soda would be to do this [lifting both arms out parallel in front of her]. … I had no control over my muscles. … And that's when it starts to hit you all that you've lost.

Jim Axelrod: And that's when the despair sinks in.

Linda Saran: That's when you make a decision. … Am I going to sit here and cry about this? … My friends were dead, my other friends are severely injured, I no longer look like myself. … But I made a choice. I'm going to do this.

Saran was one of the more than 200 who were seriously hurt in the fire. A staggering 100 lives were lost. Almost immediately the finger pointing started.

JACK RUSSELL [news interview]: Rock and Roll is supposed to be fun, not deadly you know.

The morning after the fire, the lead singer of Great White, Jack Russell, claimed the brothers had given the band permission to set off the fireworks.

JACK RUSSELL [news interview]: We never do anything without asking permission first.

The following day the brothers responded at a press conference:

JEFF DERDERIAN: No permission was ever requested by the band or any of its agents to use pyrotechnics at The Station, and no permission was ever given.

JEFF DERDERIAN [crying]: Many people didn't make it out and that is a horror that will haunt my family and I for the rest of our lives.

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch opened an investigation and convened a grand jury to determine if anyone should face criminal charges.

PATRICK LYNCH [press conference]: We have an investigation on going and we need help, we need answers and I'm trying to get them.

PATRICK LYNCH [news interview]: Certainly, there are people we are looking at, ultimately, we may target.

Now in private practice, Lynch says he looked into a host of people.

Patrick Lynch: I don't think anybody in anything that they did wanted anybody to die that night or get injured. … But does that mean it's not a crime? The answer is no.

One of the angles Lynch investigated was the Derderian brothers.

Patrick Lynch: They are running the operation. They promoted the event. So, it was very quickly they were in the circle of people we should look at.

Jim Axelrod: Over the course of the investigation, what did you learn about the way the brothers ran their business?

Patrick Lynch: Looking back on it I would say they ran it as a side business, an attempt to maybe make some extra money with the callous, utter disregard for those that work there and assemble there.

Why had the fire spread so quickly?  Foam the Derderians had installed along the club's walls and ceilings to conceal noise was highly flammable and
Why had the fire spread so quickly? Foam the Derderians had installed along the club's walls and ceilings to conceal noise was highly flammable and

The biggest question was, why had the fire spread so quickly? To satisfy noise complaints from neighbors, the brothers had installed foam along the club's walls and ceilings. As it turns out, the foam they used was highly flammable.

Patrick Lynch: The type of foam … was equal to … gallons of gasoline. It was liquid fire.

Jim Axelrod: Who's responsible for that foam going up on the wall?

Patrick Lynch: Jeffrey and Michael Derderian.

Lynch also points out that the exits were a safety issue. Inspection records showed that just three months before the fire, the Derderians had been cited by the local fire marshal for having a secondary, interior door by the stage that opened inward, which violated regulations. They were told to take it down. But the night of the fire it was up to help cut down the noise.

Patrick Lynch: Not only was the door up, which it shouldn't have been, opened inward which it shouldn't have … It was covered in foam. … it was also on fire. … that door being up, there is no question that that increased the likelihood that many, many more would perish.

In December 2003, nine months after the fire, Jeff and Michael Derderian were in court, each charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter — 100 for criminal negligence, and 100 for misdemeanor manslaughter.

JUDGE: How do you plead?

MICHAEL DERDERIAN: I plead not guilty, your honor.

JEFF DERDERIAN: Not guilty, your honor.

Great White's tour manager Daniel Biechele also faced the same charges. He had failed to get a license for the pyrotechnics from the State of Rhode Island and permits from the local fire department.

Jody King: They blamed three. …They should have blamed more. … there are other people who should be responsible.

NEW INFORMATION

In February 2006 — three years after the station nightclub burned down — many in Rhode Island were shocked to learn that instead of a trial, a plea deal had been reached with Daniel Biechele, the tour manager for the band Great White.

DANIEL BIECHELE [at sentencing hearing in tears]: I don't know that I will ever forgive myself for what happened that night. (crying) So I can't expect anybody else to.

Dan Biechele, center, at his sentencing. The tour manager for the rock band Great White  pleaded guilty to 100 counts of misdemeanor manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison. / Credit: AP
Dan Biechele, center, at his sentencing. The tour manager for the rock band Great White pleaded guilty to 100 counts of misdemeanor manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison. / Credit: AP

Biechele pleaded guilty to 100 counts of misdemeanor manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison. He was granted parole and then released after 22 months.

Michael and Jeff Derderian pleaded no contest to 100 counts of misdemeanor manslaughter and agreed to a deal.

MICHAEL DERDERIAN [at sentencing hearing]: There is so much pain and heartache that happened on our doorstep.

Jeff Derderian: There's so many things that factor into … the decision to do that.

Michael Derderian: It would have been horrific to have people go through this. … And then we've got the pressure from the judge saying … you know, you're going to go to jail for 30 years apiece.

The Station nightclub owners Michael, left, and Jeffrey Derderian, right, pleaded no contest to 100 counts of misdemeanor manslaughter and agreed to a deal.  Michael spent 33 months in prison, while Jeff had to do 500 hours of community service.  / Credit: AP
The Station nightclub owners Michael, left, and Jeffrey Derderian, right, pleaded no contest to 100 counts of misdemeanor manslaughter and agreed to a deal. Michael spent 33 months in prison, while Jeff had to do 500 hours of community service. / Credit: AP

The brother's plea deal stated only one of them would go to prison. The brothers decided that because Jeff had young kids, Michael would go. He spent 33 months in prison, while Jeff had to do 500 hours of community service.

Jody King: We never knew the whole story because the trial never happened, so everything really never came out.

Jim Axelrod: There are so many people still to this day angry that the case didn't go to trial. Do you understand that anger?

Michael Derderian: We do understand that anger … and that's — that's why we're here with you.

And now, 18 years after the fire, the brothers say they want to set the record straight and reveal new information.

Jim Axelrod: If you have a message that you want the people of Rhode Island to hear, there were plenty of ways to get it out long before now.

Michael Derderian: I don't know about that.

Jeff Derderian: I don't know. First of all, I don't know you would, how would you — how would you accomplish the detail and the amount of new information … in a news conference or, you know, a commercial or something that we would try and do on our own.

The Derderians have always maintained that they never gave the band permission to use pyrotechnics.   According to author Scott James, Great White had reportedly used a large pyro display without permission at other clubs, including just days before the fire at a show in New Jersey.  / Credit: Dan Davidson
The Derderians have always maintained that they never gave the band permission to use pyrotechnics. According to author Scott James, Great White had reportedly used a large pyro display without permission at other clubs, including just days before the fire at a show in New Jersey. / Credit: Dan Davidson

For the Derderians, the "full story" begins with the issue of permission. The brothers have always maintained that they never gave the band permission to use pyrotechnics.

Jim Axelrod: Was there a contract?

Michael Derderian: Yes.

Jim Axelrod: Did the contract specify the use of pyrotechnics?

Michael Derderian: No. It did not. … these contracts are pretty specific. So, I would think … that the pyrotechnic provision would be in there … just like we need to have, you know, 12 M&Ms, I mean, you know, and they need to be brown.

According to author Scott James, Great White had reportedly used a large pyro display without permission at other clubs, including just days before the fire at a show in New Jersey.

Scott James: And the nightclub operator there was so angry when he saw what had happened in Rhode Island, he went public, and he even made public the contract that he had with Great White that showed there was no evidence of fireworks that were going to be part of the show.

Then there's that interior, inward swinging door by the stage that Former Attorney General Patrick Lynch says was responsible for loss of life the night of the fire.

Patrick Lynch: I don't think there's any question that had that door not been up … a significant number of people would have survived.

Jeff Derderian: That door was meant to block the noise from the neighbors. …And so, when the fire inspector came in and said that that door had to come down the door, the door did come down. But then the door would go back up when it was … going to be a loud night. … It didn't have a lock on it. … there was nothing that would make it so you couldn't get out of it.

The brothers say they are still haunted by the events of that horrific night. Jeff Derderian, seated right, says,
The brothers say they are still haunted by the events of that horrific night. Jeff Derderian, seated right, says,

And, according to the brothers, it was one of the first exits used when the fire started.

Jeff Derderian: That door was opened immediately and that's where the band went out.

Michael Derderian: But that door became impassable almost within seconds because clearly there's … foam that's burning at 800 or 1,500 degrees.

Jim Axelrod: And then it just got engulfed in flames?

Michael Derderian: Correct. You were not approaching that area at all.

And then there's the foam.

Jim Axelrod: The fire spread so quickly because rather than fire-retardant sound foam, on the wall of the club was highly flammable packing foam.

Michael Derderian: That is correct. … undisputable.

The brothers sent a fax to the foam company specifically asking for sound foam. But what they received was highly flammable packing foam.

Jim Axelrod: The brothers say," wait a minute, we ordered sound foam. How is it our responsibility if they gave us the wrong foam?"

Patrick Lynch: First of all, I think it's pathetic, disgusting and unsettling to think that they're even speaking now … The foam that they put up had a direct impact on the survivability of the bulk of the people that were assembled that night.

The Derderians say that in the three years they owned the club, no one ever questioned the safety of the foam. And they're quick to point out the club was inspected by their insurance company, and multiple times by the local Fire Marshal Denis Laroque.

Michael Derderian: He finds the deficiencies, you have to correct the deficiencies … and then signs off so that you — so you can get your … liquor license … that happened in 2000. That happened in 2001. That happened in 2002.

The Derderians say that in the three years they owned the club, no one ever questioned the safety of the foam and say the club was inspected by their insurance company, and multiple times by the local Fire Marshal Denis Laroque. / Credit: Rhode Island State Fire Marshal
The Derderians say that in the three years they owned the club, no one ever questioned the safety of the foam and say the club was inspected by their insurance company, and multiple times by the local Fire Marshal Denis Laroque. / Credit: Rhode Island State Fire Marshal

The brothers have since learned that the fire marshal should have tested the foam on the wall.

Michael Derderian: The field test is crystal clear. … You take one square inch of the foam, you hold it up with a roach clip and light it on fire with a wooden match. That's what the code says. That specific.

Jim Axelrod: Did he do that?

Michael Derderian: Zero.

Jeff Derderian: None of the inspections and then follow-up inspections. … if he had done that, then he would have obviously have said to us —

Michael Derderian: Take this stuff down. This is solid gasoline.

Jeff Derderian: — this is flammable you can't have this.

When Laroque testified before the grand jury he claimed he never saw the foam. The brothers, however, find that hard to believe considering the foam covered the walls, ceiling and even the inward swinging door he cited as a violation.

Patrick Lynch: Did he do his job perfectly? Absolutely not.

According to Lynch, under Rhode Island law, the fire marshal could not be criminally charged unless there was evidence of bad faith or malice.

Patrick Lynch: … while troubling, concerning, maddening it doesn't mean that somebody should be charged or can be.

Jim Axelrod: If the brothers are relying on the fire marshal to tell them whether or not they can continue to do business. And he says you can. Isn't that an important fact in determining who's at fault?

Patrick Lynch: Again, any reference in this conversation about what the brothers say, I — I take a step back and think I don't really trust it.

But many, including the brothers, feel strongly Laroque should also have been charged.

Jeff Derderian: Why is it OK that the fire marshal is allowed to miss something or make a mistake … and what he did was just an oops, but what we did was criminal?

And why wasn't the foam company charged? The brothers say there was evidence that the grand jury never heard.

THE WHISTLEBLOWER

Two years after the fire at The Station nightclub, the Derderians learned about a piece of evidence they say is important that was never presented to the grand jury: an eight-page fax sent to the Attorney General's Office anonymously just months after the fire entitled "The Fire. The Foam."

Michael Derderian: They got this fax and it went on to describe the business practices of the foam company.

Investigators eventually discovered the fax was sent by Barry Warner, a former employee at American Foam — the company that had sent the Derderians the packing foam made of flammable polyurethane. Warner lived next to The Station and had met the brothers.

Scott James: He writes up this long, almost a manifesto about all the things that he thinks are wrong in that foam company that led to this tragedy.

The Derderians learned about a piece of evidence they say is important that was never presented to the grand jury: an eight-page fax sent to the Attorney General's Office anonymously just months after the fire entitled
The Derderians learned about a piece of evidence they say is important that was never presented to the grand jury: an eight-page fax sent to the Attorney General's Office anonymously just months after the fire entitled

He wrote: "This is a company that is well aware of the dangers of polyurethane foam. This is a company that did little to educate their employees about the limits of polyurethane foam. In fact, they did the opposite."

Jim Axelrod: When the foam came, was there anything on the packaging that indicated that it was highly flammable?

Michael Derderian: Zero.

But when Warner was called before the grand jury, he was not asked about the allegations he made in the fax.

Jeff Derderian: They didn't even bring up the fax to him. They didn't even let him talk about it.

Jim Axelrod: Mr. Warner's fax … wasn't presented to the grand jury, correct?

Patrick Lynch: I can't remember, honestly.

Jim Axelrod: Why wouldn't it be?

Patrick Lynch: You're telling me it wasn't, and I don't know that it wasn't.

"48 Hours" has confirmed the fax was not presented to the grand jury. Regardless, Lynch points out the Derderians still chose to take a plea deal instead of going to trial.

Patrick Lynch: The defendant had every right to go to trial and say, hey, if it's this mysterious fax that it's trying to be referenced today, 18 years later, hey, this is important.

American Foam said Warner's claims about the company are false. And while they weren't charged in the criminal case, survivors and victims' families sued them in civil court for not warning the Derderians the foam they sent them was flammable. The company paid a hefty settlement — and they weren't the only ones. At least 64 others were also sued, including the state of Rhode Island — cited for the fire inspector's failure to report the flammable foam during multiple inspections. In the end, the survivors and victims' families settled for a total of $176 million.

Great White was part of the lawsuit. And settled for $1 million. Jack Russell declined "48 Hours"' request for an interview.

Eighteen years later, there is no consensus among survivors when it comes to blame. Linda Saran still places much of it on the Derderian brothers.

Eighteen years later, there is no consensus among survivors when it comes to blame. Linda Saran still places much of it on the Derderian brothers.
Eighteen years later, there is no consensus among survivors when it comes to blame. Linda Saran still places much of it on the Derderian brothers.

Linda Saran: They have said they were sorry. … But never once do they say, "we screwed up." If they stood up and said, small business owners, we were inexperienced. We took shortcuts. We screwed up." I would forgive them in a heartbeat.

Jim Axelrod: To people who feel that the two of you have never said we own this … what do you say?

Michael Derderian: We say that they we're sorry for all of it. And if we could change it, we would.

Jeff Derderian: You know a day doesn't go by that we don't think about it in some way, shape or form. So, to the people who think we don't own it I'm telling you, we DO own it ok?

Michael Derderian: Yeah.

Jeff Derderian: We own it every day.

Jim Axelrod: Does this mean you feel a sense of responsibility?

Jeff Derderian: We feel a sense of guilt about what happened in the sense that you carry the guilt of knowing that these people aren't here anymore, and these people are hurt for the rest of their life. … There isn't a guilt in terms of like, that we knowingly did this or — or caused it but there's a guilt that we — it happened on our watch, happened on our watch. As a human being how do you not feel some sort of responsibility for that …?

Linda Saran: I could have missed it all. I could have missed my daughter's high school graduation, the birth of her children. …I could have missed that … My friends that didn't survive that night have missed that.

Linda will forever wear the scars of that horrible night. But she refuses to live in the past.

Linda Saran: I think a lot of people miss out on the moments.

Jim Axelrod: Not you.

Linda Saran: No, not anymore.

Phil Barr: Being a survivor of The Station nightclub fire is a piece of who I am. … It fuels you.

Today Phil Barr is married and a father of two little girls.

Phil Barr [teary-eyed]: Getting another opportunity to live my life came with enormous responsibility. … It's not just about hitting the next goal but doing something really meaningful. … Because so many people that were there don't have that opportunity.

Jody King kneels at his brother Tracy's memorial. Tracy King died saving many others the night of the fire.  / Credit: CBS News
Jody King kneels at his brother Tracy's memorial. Tracy King died saving many others the night of the fire. / Credit: CBS News

In 2017 a memorial was opened to honor the 100 innocent lives that were tragically lost in The Station fire, including Tracy King, who died saving so many others.

Jody King: I'm so proud to say he's my brother. … My parents taught us a lot, a lot of things. One of them is never say die, never give up. Tracy died never giving up.

At the time of The Station fire, older clubs in Rhode Island weren't required to install sprinklers. It is now mandatory for nightclubs with occupancy over 150 to have them.

Since The Station fire, many states have adopted stricter fire prevention codes.

Produced by Betsy Shuller and Chris Young Ritzen. Marc Goldbaum is the development producer. Doreen Schechter and Gary Winter are the editors. Kat Teurfs is the associate producer. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.

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