Tentative $30 million deal in R. I. nightclub fire

/ Source: The Associated Press

A TV station and a cameraman accused of getting in the way of people fleeing the nightclub fire that killed 100 people have reached a tentative $30 million settlement with survivors and victims' relatives, a lawyer involved in the deal said Saturday.

It is the largest settlement of several reached so far with the dozens of people and companies who sued over the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub. The blaze began when pyrotechnics used by the 1980s rock band Great White ignited highly flammable soundproofing foam covering the walls.

Brian Butler, a cameraman for WPRI-TV, was at the West Warwick nightclub gathering footage for a segment on safety in public places. His video formed the most complete record of the early moments of the fire, revealing the rapid spread of flames and the frantic rush for the exits.

Lawyers for the victims accused Butler of impeding the crowd's exit through the front door. He and his lawyer, Chip Babcock, have denied the claim.

Babcock did not immediately return calls seeking comment Saturday. After Butler was sued in 2004, Babcock said that his client "had saved lives that night."

The settlement, which also involves the station's owner, LIN-TV, was first reported Saturday by The Boston Globe. A lawyer involved in the deal confirmed the settlement on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it.

The settlement requires the approval of a judge handling the case and the plaintiffs.

About 300 survivors and victims' relatives sued after the fire. Last year, lawyers reached settlements totaling $18.5 million with some of the defendants. Dozens of defendants remain in the case.