Biechele Sentenced To Four Years

Former tour manager for Great White Dan Biechele, whose pyrotechnics caused a nightclub fire that killed 100 people was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison.

Biechele, 29, could have gotten as much as 10 years behind bars under a deal he struck with prosecutors in February, when he pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

The greatest sentence that can be imposed upon you, has been imposed upon you by yourself,” Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr. told Biechele, drawing sobs and groans from some of those in the courtroom.

The sentence came after two days of anguished testimony from the victims’ families, who told of college graduations they would never see, grandchildren they would never hold, and grief so powerful that they could not get out of bed in the morning and looked forward to death to be reunited with their loved ones.

Biechele was the tour manager for heavy metal band Great White when on Feb. 20, 2003, he lit a pyrotechnics display that ignited highly flammable foam that lined the walls and ceiling of The Station nightclub in West Warwick. The foam was used as soundproofing and was placed there by the owners after neighbors complained about noise from the club.

Many of the 100 people who were killed that night either were quickly overcome by fumes emitted by the foam or became trapped in a crush at the front door.

He is the first person to be sentenced for the fire. The owners of the club are awaiting trial on manslaughter charges.

His sentencing followed two days of highly emotional testimony from dozens of relatives of some of those who died that night. Biechele offered his first public comments on that night, apologizing repeatedly.

I know how this tragedy has devastated me but I can only begin to understand what the people who have lost loved ones have endured,” he said, gazing downward, choking back tears, his lip quivering. “I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive myself for what happened that night, so I can’t expect anyone else to.”

I never wanted anyone to be hurt in any way,” he said. “I never imagined that anyone ever would be.”

Biechele’s lawyers had asked the judge to show mercy and sentence Biechele to community service. They said he is the only person to accept responsibility and is truly remorseful, having written letters of apology to the families of the victims that will be given to them later.

I ask you to consider this: Dan Biechele is the only man in this tragedy to stand up and say I did something wrong,” said his attorney, Thomas Briody. “He’s the only man to say ’I apologize.”’

Prosecutors had asked for the maximum sentence allowed under the deal they struck with Biechele in February, when he pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter for igniting pyrotechnics without a permit – 10 years to serve in prison.

The devastation wrought by the conduct of the defendant is unparalleled in our state’s history,” prosecutor Randall White said, occasionally choking up as he described what he called the incalculable impact on those who survived and relatives of those who died.

The suffering is endless, and the extent and depth of the pain is bottomless,” White added.

The fire, the fourth-deadliest nightclub blaze in U.S. history, scarred tiny Rhode Island – a state so small that most of its residents seemed to know at least one person at the club that night, injured or killed.

The sentencing follows two days of wrenching testimony from the families of about half the people killed, who offered such vivid and pained accounts that even lawyers and court officials found themselves in tears.

Some parents told the court that they’ve contemplated suicide. Other relatives said they could no longer work and have become so ill they can barely get out of bed in the morning. Many others spoke of the devastating effects on children who are growing up without their mothers and fathers.

Biechele broke down in tears and sobs near the end of testimony Tuesday, as the father of the youngest fire victim said he had often thought of the impact the fire has had on Biechele’s own mother, and said his son would want him to accept the band manager’s apology.

The fire injured more than 200 people, and some of the injured have complained that they were not allowed to give victim impact statements. But Biechele was charged only with manslaughter, not with the injuries, and court rules did not allow people to speak if they were not related to someone who was killed.

Still, the sentence does not resolve the criminal case stemming from the fire. The owners of The Station nightclub, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, are accused of installing the flammable foam that fed the flames and have pleaded not guilty to 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter – two counts for each person killed under separate legal theories.

Michael Derderian is tentatively scheduled to go to trial on July 31; no trial date has been set for his brother.

Biechele has said he Michael Derderian gave him permission to use the pyrotechnics at The Station; the Derderians have said he didn’t have permission.

Biechele and the Derderians are also among dozens of defendants named in a massive lawsuit filed in federal court by fire survivors and victims’ relatives.

Associated Press