PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The state of Rhode Island and the town of West Warwick have each agreed to pay $10 million to those left behind after a nightclub fire that killed 100 people, according to court documents filed Monday.
The state and the town are the last major defendants to agree to settlement offers, now totaling nearly $175 million, after the fire on Feb. 20, 2003, at The Station nightclub in West Warwick. The blaze began when pyrotechnics used by the 1980s rock band Great White ignited foam used as soundproofing on the club's walls and ceilings.
More than 300 survivors and victims' relatives had sued dozens of people and companies over the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history, and nearly all defendants, including Anheuser-Busch, Clear Channel Broadcasting and The Home Depot, have agreed to settle rather than head to trial.
Money hasn't been distributed
None of the settlement money has been distributed yet. Among other conditions, the latest settlements require the approval of a judge and all the people suing. A Duke University law professor appointed to calculate a formula for how much money each person should receive also must sign off on the deals.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Don Carcieri declined to comment on the deal Monday, including whether Carcieri supported it. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Patrick Lynch, whose office filed the agreement, did not return a call seeking comment.
The settlement covers former West Warwick Fire Marshal Denis Larocque, who was roundly blamed by victims for failing to cite the club for using cheaper, flammable foam in place of typical soundproofing material despite repeated visits to the building.
Larocque has never spoken publicly but has told investigators and a grand jury that he missed the foam because he was focused on a stage door that swung the wrong way and because his inspections looked more into equipment such as emergency lighting and fire extinguishers.
Laywers for the victims said the state, through deputy fire marshals like Larocque, was responsible for enforcing building and fire code laws and for proper building inspections.
Besides Larocque, the settlement also covers a town police officer accused of permitting overcrowding while working security at the club that night and a town building official blamed for failing to enforce the building codes.
'Their lives are only worth $10 million?'
The town of West Warwick has agreed to borrow whatever portion of the settlement that exceeds its insurance.
At least one plaintiff was unhappy with the settlement offers. Diane Mattera, whose daughter Tammy Mattera-Housa, 29, died in the fire, called the deals "insulting" but said no amount of money could satisfy her.
"How can they decide that all 100 that died, and all that was burned and everything — all the survivors — that their lives are only worth $10 million?" she asked.
Club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, who installed the foam, pleaded no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter in 2006. Former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele, who set off the pyrotechnics, pleaded guilty to the same charges for igniting the devices without the required permit.
Biechele was released on parole in March after serving 22 months of his four-year sentence, and Michael Derderian will be out on parole next year. His brother was spared jail time and given community service and probation.
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