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When justice expedited is justice denied

A little over three and a half years ago, The Station -- a road house/nightclub in Warwick, Rhode Island -- burned to the ground. 100 people were killed.

That night, the club was featuring Great White, the 80s metal band. The owners had oversold the show, and the people were packed in. The stage manager for the band had -- without the club owners' knowledge or permission -- set up pyrotechnics. When he set them off, they ignited the soundproofing foam, and the place went up like a match.

Since then, there have been a lot of recriminations. Fingerpointing over who shares the lion's share of the blame for the deaths. The road manager pleaded guilty to 100 counts of negligent homicide and was sentenced to 15 years in prison -- with all but 4 years suspended. And the club's owners, brother Jeff and Michael Derderian, was scheduled to start last week.

Then, during jury selection, the judge announced that a plea bargain had been reached: Michael would get four years in prison, while Jeff (who was the lesser partner and looking to get out of his share of the ownership at the time) would get a suspended sentence and 500 hours community service. The judge said he did this to spare the families of the victims the ordeal of a trial.

This was news to the families, who had been very much looking forward to the trial. Instead, they would have to content themselves with giving "victim impact statements" at the sentencing.

But for some strange reason, the judge didn't seem overly sensitive to the victims when it moved from the abstract ("sparing them the pain") to the concrete -- when he had to face them in court. Before they could speak, he laid down the law:

1) His mind was made up, so they could not address the plea bargain.

2) They were not to speak to or look directly at the Derderians.

3) Any violation of these rules or the court's decorum would result in the victim or victim's family members being removed from the courtroom.

Some of the victims and family members were relieved to be spared the trial, but many more were very unhappy. They had a lot of questions they want answered, and they had hoped that a trial would provide them. For example:

1) Why had the previous owner cheaped out and put up the highly-flammable sound-insulating foam, instead of the required-by-law (and much more expensive) fire-retardant foam?

2) Who had signed off on the required annual inspections by the fire marshal's office, certifying that the place was safe?

3) Did anyone with the club know that the band manager had set off pyrotechnics at prior Great White gigs, often without telling the clubs beforehand?

A lot of changes have been made in the wake of the fire, to prevent anything like it from happening again. Officials have cracked down -- hard -- on clubs being overfilled. Older clubs are no longer "grandfathered" out of sprinkler requirements and other safety laws.

But the survivors and the victims' families still have many questions that have not been answered -- and thanks to this judge's "concern" over them, they most likely never will be.


Comments (17)

Jay,Didn't you get... (Below threshold)
Ringmaster:

Jay,

Didn't you get the memo? Teachers and Judges have absolute moral authority. You can't question them. They're never wrong.

Unless they're conservative, of course.

Then they're just fun to look at.

Come on.Are you really surp... (Below threshold)
Xennady:

Come on.Are you really surprised that the US court system 1)took years to reach a verdict 2)that should have been reached in a month or less 3)and that demonstrated contempt for the victims of the crime? Surely not.

I really don't see why the ... (Below threshold)
beta_mle:

I really don't see why the owners of the place have to be prosecuted for murder for what was a tragic accident. Yes, there were code violations, but I suppose there are laws for that and a forum where they could be addressed. Also, the pyrotechnics were set up without their knowledge or permission. This is a second tragedy, compounded upon the first, to blame somebody, the blame mentality that is pervading our society. I suppose also that the owners are so overwhelmed by guilt and a sense of responsibility, as well as the public pressure, that they are willing to fall on the sword for this.

The family members could have filed a civil suit, and received the closure/justice/compensation they deserved. Why ruin two more lives, who are arguably not at fault, just for revenge?

Good grief, what a cluster ... (Below threshold)
robert:

Good grief, what a cluster f**k that was.

But I can't help thinking "there but for the grace..." when I remember all the places I've been where the "needs" for security and limited access have outweighed the need for fire exits.

I can't even count the number of chained doors I've seen in movie theaters, clubs, school gym's, concert venues, convention centers, etc..

If an owner or contractor installs bad stuff, it is murder. If an owner chains the doors, it is murder. Forget the community service/probation/negligent homicide stuff - it is murder.

<a href="http://www.snopes.... (Below threshold)
a:

Good (L)uck Mr Gorsky!


Sorry folks. Just trying to get the hang of html

robert:If the door... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

robert:

If the doors are chained, get your ass out as fast as you can, no matter what you paid for the ticket.

I tend to agree with beta_mle on this one. Not that I don't think that the club owners and band manager shouldn't get punished for their negligent acts, but the real tragity here is that so many people refuse to take responsibility for their own safety. If we think that government laws are going to keep us safe, we deserve what ever happens to us, not because we are bad people but because we are STUPID!

Where I live, a man was killed by an automobile whose driver was blinded by the sun when comming over a rise in the road. Some residents wanted the driver drawn and quartered, however I argued that the dead dumb ass shouldn't have been walking in the middle of the road. Wise up America, the government laws will never protect you, simply because too many people will just ignore them.

The victims & victim's fami... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

The victims & victim's families may have input at sentencing, but the final word isn't upto them.

Justice is suppose to be served impartially. Victims and/or their families are often far from impartial and sometimes they are just dead wrong. But emotion overrides their reason. Sometimes it can happen both ways. For instance battered wives who take their husbands back after being beaten near death.

That being said the Justice system is not perfect. Too often sentencing is too light or justice gives way to incompetence, corruption or political agenda. But giving the victim's family more say is not how to fix our justice system.

Not that I don't think t... (Below threshold)
robert:

Not that I don't think that the club owners and band manager shouldn't get punished for their negligent acts, but the real tragity here is that so many people refuse to take responsibility for their own safety. If we think that government laws are going to keep us safe, we deserve what ever happens to us, not because we are bad people but because we are STUPID!

USMC Pilot:

Do you, then, think that the kids in this hall should have performed their own tests on the flammability of the ceiling material?

Should they have, each, checked the qualifications of the pyrotechnics crew?

Should we, all, check the condition and materials of a bridge we are about to drive under?

I agree with you that we should all take care, but there is also a role for government here. One that failed badly.

And that was my point about chained doors.

IHO, the unresolved questio... (Below threshold)
chuckR:

IHO, the unresolved questions are:

1) how often had other bands used pyro at this nightclub?

2) how often had the band manager decided to use pyro elsewhere without clearing it with the owners of those other clubs?

3) how did the allowable occupancy go from around 250 to 400?

4) who bought the flammable foam and did those purchasers deliberately cut corners with a foam that wasn't fire retardant?

5) who created this deal? The State AG is up for election in a few weeks and he has repudiated the deal, but I have more than a few doubts about his indignation and sincerity. This should have been aired out by trial regardless the political fallout.

6) what is the responsibility/culpability of the local and state fire marshalls?

There will be a large number of civil suits to recompense the burned and (physically and emotionally) crippled survivors and the families of dead. Perhaps we'll find out then. We certainly did not find out through the criminal justice system.

I have to agree with USMC Pilot. See something you don't like? Alert others. Get out. Don't depend on the good graces, diligence, intelligence and/or honesty of some government regulatory agency or a business or an individual. The trick, as Robert points out, is having the ability and knowledge to assess a hazard. Chained doors are at one end of the spectrum, foam insulation at the other.

Remember, this happened in ... (Below threshold)
Jim:

Remember, this happened in Rhode Island, where a one-party legislature combines with special interest groups to produce a state government that is both kleptocratic and incompetent. Obviously the fix was in for the judge to block any real look into what happened lest blame fall on the state and local officials who allowed the tragedy to happen in the first place. After the fire the legislature rushed to pass legislation that imposed heavy costs on businesses (and which, in its original form, even made it illegal for elementary school teachers to post student art work and essays on their bulletin boards) even though the entire Station fire tragedy could never have happened if the existing laws already on the books had actually been followed and enforced. Judges are always threatening people with being found in contempt of court; how could anyone feel anything but contempt for judges who so pervert the legal system as this one did?

I did a show in Providence ... (Below threshold)
cirby:

I did a show in Providence a year after the fire, at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Fire Marshals were all over the place every single day, making sure we never blocked aisles, that rooms were never over their capacity, and that their asses were thoroughly covered. I asked one of them about it, and found out that half of all of their available manpower was there, in a reasonably new, government-owned building, instead of being out looking at the hundreds of other places in town that really needed inspecting.

robert:I didn't sa... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

robert:

I didn't say there shouldn't be laws governing construction and safety. I said, if you think they are going to protect you, you are STUPID! The minute any of those young people walked into a room with 400 people, they should have at least checked to see if there were any exits, other than the one they came in.

I'm sure that Boston had all kinds of laws and regulations concerning the design and construction of the "big dig", but a woman is still dead from the ceiling falling on her. The point being, take responsibility for your own safety, because the government is not a thing it's people, and for the most part they couldn't care less about you. Covering their own asses maybe (as pointed out several times above), but not you.

"A single death is a traged... (Below threshold)
Bob:

"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." Joseph Stalin. The judge in this case demonstrated that, at least in this case, even 100 deaths is a statistic.

Are all of you certain that... (Below threshold)
wondering:

Are all of you certain that you have no hazardous/not code materials in your homes that in some circumstances could be lethal?

Wondering:Actually... (Below threshold)
cirby:

Wondering:

Actually, I'm certain that I have all sorts of non-code materials in my house, but I don't run a business that requires hundreds of people to get in or out of it quickly. I have at least one exit per room that lets me get outside in short order, though, and I have a couple of fire extinguishers handy in the house (as well as a working smoke alarm).

I do, however, occasionally work in situations where hundreds (if not thousands) of people are in large enclosed spaces, and where pyrotechnics are set off as part of the show. In those cases, part of the job is to make sure all exits are clearly marked, that fire extinguishers are made available in sufficient numbers, and that the people in charge know what they're doing. We also make sure that all materials near pyro charges are fire resistant or flame retardant.

In some venues, there has to be a fire marshal inspection and monitoring for all pyro usage, and in most others, pyro work is strictly forbidden as a matter of course. There are plenty of other ways to make big flashy effects without setting fire to something.

A trial doesn't necessarily... (Below threshold)

A trial doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is insisting that the club owners must be charged with 100 murders. It's a way to discover what really happened and why.

At least that seems to me what Jay Tea was saying. Even if the trial convictions are similar to the plea the process involves finding out just what went wrong.

At least then people can feel like maybe it will be less likely to happen again.

The judge has done the righ... (Below threshold)
kbiel:

The judge has done the right thing here. He didn't negotiate the plea bargain himself; he only accepted what the prosecutors asked him to.

I feel for the families who want to punish everyone who contributed to their loved ones' deaths, but often their "questions" are not really questions. Grieving people often ask these "questions" as a way of assuaging their grief and just as often none of the answers are satisfactory or help with their grief.




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