February 7, 2006

Guilty plea in deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire

By Richard C. Lewis

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (Reuters) - The tour manager of a
rock band who set off fireworks inside a Rhode Island nightclub
and started a fire that killed 100 people three years ago
pleaded guilty on Tuesday to involuntary manslaughter.

Daniel Biechele, 29, will face no more than 10 years in
prison under a plea bargain announced last week for his role in
the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history. He will be
sentenced on May 8 in Providence Superior Court.

Biechele admitted in court that he set off the fireworks
that accompanied a show by the rock band Great White on
February 20, 2003, at The Station nightclub in West Warwick.

State prosecutors said the pyrotechnics caused the fire
that killed 100 patrons of the club and injured some 200.

Biechele also acknowledged that he spoke with one of the
club's owners, Michael Derderian, and asked for permission to
use the fireworks that night.

The state said Derderian gave Biechele permission to light
the pyrotechnics display.

Biechele and the club's owners, Jeffrey and Michael
Derderian, were each charged with 100 counts of involuntary
manslaughter with criminal negligence, and 100 counts of
involuntary manslaughter in violation of a misdemeanor.

All three pleaded not guilty in separate arraignments in
December 2003. No date has been set for a trial for the
Derderian brothers.

In changing his plea to guilty, Biechele waived his right
to a trial and to appeal his sentence.

Jody King, whose 39-year-old brother, Tracy, died in the
fire, said Biechele's sentence range was too lenient.

"It's not enough. It never will be enough. Ten years can't
replace Tracy and 99 other lives. It's 1.2 months per life,"
King said.

The Station went up in flames when sparks from the
fireworks at the start of the concert spread to flammable foam
on the club's walls.

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch has accused the
Derderians of having failed to properly maintain the nightclub
by keeping the foam on the walls. He said Biechele's guilty
plea allows him to testify if the Derderian brothers stand

"The value of his testimony will be measured over time.
Certainly his plea will not injure our case in any way. In fact
I would suggest it would help it," Lynch told a news conference
after the court proceedings.

Some of the victims' relatives such as Eireen
DiBonaventura, whose 18-year-old son Albert was killed in the
inferno, have criticized the plea agreement and said Biechele
should have stood trial. "This is a serious, serious crime. It
warrants a harsh, harsh consequence," said DiBonaventura.