Documents in R.I. nightclub fire probe released

By Eric Tucker
The Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The fire marshal who inspected a Rhode Island nightclub a few months before a fire killed 100 people there said he failed to notice flammable foam around the stage because after he saw an exit door that swung the wrong way, he didn't look anywhere else.

A previously unreleased transcript of a state police interview with town fire inspector Denis Larocque was among more than 3,000 pages of evidence made public Wednesday from the criminal case of the 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick.

The release of documents was prompted by open records requests made to the attorney general's office by The Associated Press, The Providence Journal and The Boston Globe. The office expects to release tens of thousands of pages over the next several weeks, said spokesman Michael Healey.

In a transcript of one brief interview a few days after the fire, Larocque was asked whether he noticed foam around the stage area during a November 2002 inspection.

"No, I did not," he replied before adding that he was focused on an exit door that swung the wrong way and that he had previously listed as violating code. He said seeing the door again violating code so surprised him that "I really didn't look anywhere" else.

Prosecutors say when fire tore through the single-story wooden building Feb. 20, 2003, the door still had not been fixed.

A message left for Larocque at the town fire department was not immediately returned.

The club's owners had notified the town a few years before the fire that they had installed foam in the nightclub walls to reduce noise. The club regularly hosted heavy metal bands and was the subject of frequent noise complaints.

Town records given to prosecutors and released Wednesday included a memo written on Station letterhead and dated March 21, 2000, the same day the town council voted to transfer the club's license to brothers Michael and Jeff Derderian. The memo says "sound retardant insulation" was being used around the stage.

Dave Kane, whose 18-year-old son Nicholas O'Neill was the youngest person killed in the fire, called the release of information "window-dressing" offering little important insight.

"Is it going to say that the fire marshal really did screw up and should be put up on charges?" Kane said. "Is it going to say that the building inspectors really did not do their jobs? Of course not."

The last of three criminal cases in the fire were resolved two months ago, when the club's two owners agreed to plea deals and were sentenced on 100 counts each of involuntary manslaughter. Michael Derderian was given four years in prison, and his brother received community service and probation.

Daniel Biechele, who as the tour manager for the rock band Great White ignited the pyrotechnics display that started the fire, pleaded guilty earlier and is serving a four-year sentence. Flammable foam installed to soundproof the nightclub walls quickly spread the flames and filled the club with toxic black smoke.

Grand jury testimony from the case remains sealed, but a petition seeking its release is pending.

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