Musicians from two rock bands said today that they had set off pyrotechnics inside the Station nightclub with the full knowledge of the owners.
The musicians have talked with Rhode Island police investigators, and one band has handed over a videotape of a concert in April 2000 at the wood-frame nightclub. Last week the heavy metal band Great White set off pyrotechnics in the Station, igniting a fire that killed 97 people, the fourth-worst nightclub fire in the nation's history. Owners of the club have denied giving permission for the pyrotechnics display.
"I've got video of us blowing up stuff on stage that's a lot bigger than anything [Great White lead singer] Jack Russell shot off," said Rev Tyler of the heavy metal band Lovin' Kry.
Asked whether the owners, Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, said anything to him, Tyler replied: "Yeah, they said, 'Great show. Do you want to do a bigger one next week?' "
The lead guitarist for another band, KISStory, said his band fired off knee-high balls of flame at a concert at the Station in August. "Of course a KISS tribute band has pyros; otherwise it wouldn't be a KISS tribute band," said Joe Del Signore, 33. "No one said anything."
Friends say the Derderians bought the club in March 2000.
Jeffrey Derderian's attorney did not return five phone calls seeking comment today. On Saturday, Jeffrey Derderian had called together several dozen reporters. Breaking into tears, he read a statement offering prayers for victims and saying he knew nothing of Great White's plans to use pyrotechnics.
"At no time did my brother or I have any knowledge that pyrotechnics were going to be used by the band Great White," he said. "No permission was ever requested by the band or any of its agents."
Derderian, a reporter for a local television station, declined to take questions.
The probe into the fire appeared to be picking up speed as investigators interviewed bands, pressed the owners to be more cooperative and imposed a moratorium on pyrotechnics at small clubs and auditoriums holding fewer than 300 people. Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) said today that the soundproofing insulation that caught fire is "a major focus" of the investigation and that certain types of foam can act as a fire accelerant.
"Experienced firefighters were just shocked at how fast that building went up," Carcieri said. "It was engulfed in flames way too fast."
Attorney General Patrick Lynch offered pointed words for the nightclub owner at a news conference today, saying: "I would hope that Mr. Derderian is as cooperative with law enforcement agencies as he has been with the press."
Lynch said that Derderian has met with investigators and "answered some questions." He emphasized the word "some" and noted that the police would re-interview the owner.
Investigators also interviewed Russell and other members of Great White before they flew back to Los Angeles on Saturday. One of the band's guitarists, Ty Longley, is missing and presumed dead.
"The band members have been cooperative," Lynch said.
The death toll in the fire, meanwhile, rose to 97 as officials disclosed that another charred body was found in the sodden rubble of the nightclub. Forensic technicians have now identified 42 victims. Laboring in state mortuaries, technicians compare teeth to dental records.
Eighty people remain in a dozen hospitals, including 25 in critical condition.
Earlier today, many families of the victims visited the ruined nightclub for the first time. As police barred members of the media and onlookers, families stepped off buses and picked up dozens of red roses left by firefighters. They walked in a misting rain to the site, where they held hands, prayed and wept. At least one relative collapsed, and was taken to an ambulance.
And still some families are just discovering their losses. "A family just arrived this morning from California and found their son was among the missing," Carcieri said. "These families are going through such an emotional odyssey."
Clergy at local churches in this old working-class mill town along the south branch of the Pawtucket River wrestled with questions of loss today. The Rev. Roger G. Champigny, pastor of the 1,000-family St. Catherine Church, said he had just agreed to preside at the wedding of a young woman in his congregation, only to learn that her fiance was missing in the inferno.
"The mother called me yesterday and said her daughter was devastated," Champigny said. "The mother was here at 7:30 [service], but the daughter was too devastated to come to Mass yet."
The question of who bears responsibility for the fire weighed on many people's minds yesterday. Some defended Derderian and his club. Peter Hoogerzeil, lead singer of Bonnis Herd, described his band as more or less the house band at the Station. He also is a techie, and he said the club does not allow pyrotechnics.
"I'm 100 percent certain that the managers and owner would have immediately stopped anyone firing off pyrotechnics," he said. "There was nothing in Great White's contract or rider about pyrotechnics, so you're not going to be looking for that stuff."
He added that Great White set up their equipment during the afternoon at the Station, before Derderian arrived. And he said the group's props may have hidden the pyrotechnic equipment.
"There's so much stuff up there, you don't always see the wires," Hoogerzeil said.
David Vaccaro, 36, disagreed. The former lead singer of Lovin' Kry said his group played at the Station 12 to 20 times and set off pyrotechnics all but one time.
He said if the practice was illegal, no one enforced the law, from the bands to the club owners to the authorities.
"We used open flames that hit the ceiling," he said. "We've done pyro right in front of firemen standing at the Station, and nobody said anything about it," Vaccaro said, adding that he thinks the soundproofing material was the problem. "If anyone is to blame, it's whoever put that crap up on the wall and the ceiling."
Researcher Don Pohlman contributed to this report.