Dan Biechele, the former tour manager of Eighties heavy metal band Great White, was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison and three years probation for setting a fire in a Rhode Island nightclub in February 2003, a blaze that killed 100 fans and injured twice that number.
Biechele set off pyrotechnics that ignited the flammable foam lining of the Station nightclub’s walls during the band’s performance there, resulting in the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.
Judge Francis J. Darigan Jr., who had heard testimony from many of the victims’ family members during the three-day hearing, said in his remarks that Biechele’s sentence was imposed to punish him for his negligence “and not the results of [his] actions.”
“You and the victims’ families will be forever mindful of that fatal night, and it is not within the power of this or any court to fashion a sentence reflective of the enormity of that tragedy,” he said. The ruling strikes a compromise between prosecutors — who pushed for a ten-year sentence — and Biechele’s lawyers, who requested community service for what they called an “accident.”
Several relatives of the victims were enraged at what they considered a light sentence for twenty-nine-year-old Biechele. “My son has never known his father,” said Heidi Peralta, girlfriend of Great White guitarist Ty Longley, who died in the fire. She told the court that she was three months pregnant at the time of the catastrophe. “We never got to go to ultrasounds together. We’ll never have family portraits. We’ll never have any of that, and it’s not fair.”
Biechele, who pleaded guilty in February to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter for firing off pyrotechnics without a license, tearfully apologized to the victims’ families in court. “I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive myself for what happened that night, so I can’t expect anyone else to,” he said. “I can only pray that they understand that I would do anything to undo what happened that night and give them back their loved ones.”
Biechele’s sentencing has not appeased prosecutors, who plan to pursue owners of the West Warwick Station, State Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch told CourtTV. The club owners, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, were indicted in December 2003 and each pleaded innocent to 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter — two counts for each individual killed — for violating state fire code by allegedly padding the club’s walls with combustible foam.
Michael Derderian’s trial is tentatively set for July 31st; no trial date has been scheduled for his brother.