Thursday, December 12, 2013
By MICHELLE R. SMITH The Associated Press
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Family members of the 100 people who died in a 2003 nightclub fire and survivors of the blaze are pledging to work together as they try to build a memorial at the site of the old Station nightclub in West Warwick.
Photographs, wooden crosses and personal items stand as makeshift memorials on the site of the 2003 Station nightclub fire that killed 100 people in West Warwick, R.I.
The Associated Press
Tensions and disagreements about how to finally make the memorial happen in the face of a years-long impasse with the property owner spilled into public view last week as families debated whether the state should use eminent domain to seize the land.
By the end of the week, though, several survivors and relatives of those killed said that as the 10th anniversary approaches, they hope to put aside their differences and unite in their goal to build a permanent memorial at the site of the Feb. 20, 2003 fire.
"There's been enough tragedy. Let's stop, take a deep breath and move forward together," said Gina Russo, who was burned on much of her body in the blaze.
The fire at The Station nightclub was sparked by pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White. Three people were charged and convicted in the fire: Daniel Biechele, Great White's tour manager, who set off the pyrotechnics, and club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian. In 2009, those affected by the fire reached a $176 million settlement with dozens of people, companies and governments.
With the legal issues over, some families and survivors focused on building a memorial on the site, where a makeshift memorial of homemade crosses, posters, photos, flowers and other items has been maintained over the years. Those who have worked for a memorial have said they have tried without success to work out a deal with the landowner. A lawyer for the family that owns the land told The Associated Press the family is still committed to turning it into a memorial.
Meanwhile, construction workers, designers and landscape architects have pledged to build a memorial, but it can't move forward until the land is secured. The Station Fire Memorial Foundation has raised more than $100,000 for the project.
James Gahan of Falmouth, Mass., whose son, Jimmy, was killed, said disagreements have arisen over the years about what kind of memorial to build. He prefers something as small as a list of names on a few hundred square feet at the site.
"The key is, just settle on something," Gahan said. "Just do something that at least honors the memories of those people."
There are also disagreements over whether the owner should donate the land or should be compensated.
Some are urging the state to seize the land by eminent domain.