R.I. Nightclub Fire Plaintiffs Add Home Depot, State, Band as Defendants

February 16, 2006

Nearly 270 people affected by Rhode Island’s deadliest nightclub fire added several more defendants to their lawsuit this week, including members of the band whose pyrotechnics sparked the blaze and manufacturers of flammable foam that fed the flames.

The amended lawsuit filed on behalf of fire survivors and relatives of those killed alleges that carelessness and negligence by the defendants was to blame for the fire’s 100 deaths and dozens of injuries. Eight of those who died either lived or worked in Connecticut.

The suit replaces a massive complaint originally filed in July 2004, and comes just days before a three-year deadline to bring a claim stemming from the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station.

The fire at the West Warwick club started during a rock band’s pyrotechnic display when sparks ignited flammable foam placed around the stage as soundproofing.

The amended complaint sues individual members of Great White, alleging that David Felice, Eric Powers, Mark Kendall, as well as lead singer Jack Russell, helped with the pyrotechnics show but failed to get the required permit. Russell also was named in the original suit.

Ed McPherson, a lawyer for the band, did not immediately return a call for comment.

The plaintiffs also accuse Home Depot of selling the club insulation without warning of its potential hazards. That material was placed above the drummer’s alcove on the club’s ceiling, and is different from the polyurethane foam ignited by the pyrotechnics.

“The Home Depot intends to defend itself vigorously in the lawsuit. The company is proud of its longstanding history of providing safe products for its customers,” said spokesman Jerry Shields.

The initial complaint named roughly four dozen defendants, include club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele and American Foam Corp., a Johnston-based company that sold flammable foam to the Derderians.

Earlier this month in a separate criminal case, Biechele pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter for lighting the pyrotechnics. The Derderians were also charged in a criminal indictment and have pleaded innocent.

The updated lawsuit also reinstates the state of Rhode Island as a defendant, which a federal judge last year dismissed from the suit. The new complaint revises its allegations against the state, saying it was responsible for the “egregious negligence” of West Warwick fire inspector Denis Larocque, who lawyers say failed to detect the foam during inspections of the club.

Other new defendants include Stephen Murray, a West Warwick building official accused of failing to properly inspect the club and enforce restrictions on crowd size and exit requirements. Attempts to reach Murray at his West Warwick City Hall office weren’t successful.

Also sued is Aram DerManouelian, the president of American Foam, who is accused in the lawsuit of discouraging employees from telling prospective customers about the potential hazards of the foam. That allegation was raised in a fax sent anonymously to prosecutors in 2003 by Barry Warner, a former American Foam salesman who is also among the defendants. The company’s general manager has said Warner’s claims are not true.

The new lawsuit also adds multiple companies accused of manufacturing flammable foam used in the club and insurance companies that allegedly failed to adequately inspect The Station.

The suit seeks monetary damages but does not specify an amount.

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