GREAT WHITE Nightclub Fire: Victims' Families React Angrily To Plea Deal

The Associated Press has issued the following report:

Family members of those killed in a deadly nightclub fire nearly three years ago reacted with anger and dismay Tuesday to news that the man who started the blaze had cut a deal to spend no more than a decade in jail.

Daniel Biechele, 29, was tour manager of the heavy metal band GREAT WHITE when he lit a pyrotechnics display inside The Station nightclub in West Warwick on Feb. 20, 2003, sparking a fire that consumed the building and killed 100 people, including eight who lived or worked in Connecticut.

Under the terms of the deal, he will plead guilty to half the 200 involuntary manslaughter counts he faced. Each count carried a maximum 30 years in prison.

"It's a mere slap on the wrist. My son is dead and so are 99 others," said Eileen DiBonaventura, whose 18-year-old son, Albert, died in the fire.

DiBonaventura sat silently in the rear of the courtroom and tightly clasped her hands as Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan announced a plea agreement that he said "meets the ends of justice" and spares the victims' families from what he said would be a lengthy and costly trial.

She met for about 45 minutes with prosecutors immediately after the hearing, and emerged to tell reporters she was disgusted by the deal.

Some of the victims' families said they would have preferred a lengthy trial so they could hear all the evidence in the case.

John Richmond said he believes a trial is the best chance to get answers about what happened to his daughter, Kelly Vieira, 40, who was killed in the blaze.

"There's so many questions to be answered, and answers to be given. If this thing went to trial and it went six months, I'd be there every day listening," Richmond said. "I know it's an expensive process, but you're talking about the lives of 100 people."
Richmond said he wants to know whether a bouncer obstructed an exit, and wants to view the entire videotape taken by a TV camera that shows the flames spreading.

He said he still doesn't understand how fire inspectors failed to notice the flammable soundproofing foam that coated the club's walls and fed the flames.

Richmond said he still plans to attend the trials of club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, who are also each charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter. They are accused of installing flammable foam in violation of the state fire code.

Rosanna Fontaine, whose 22-year-old son Mark was killed in the fire, said she had been expecting a deal.

"It's hard today," she said. "I don't think we hold out much hope that anyone really is going to be held accountable."

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