Probe Centers On Band, Club Owners

Members of the band Great White on stage at The Station nightclub as pyrotechnics display catches ceiling on fire, West Warwick, R.I. (photo taken from video). The club quickly went up in flames and little was left of the building.
As the victims are remembered, the search for answers in the investigation into a deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire continues.

A grand jury will convene on the case Wednesday, hearing from members of the band, sources said. There were published reports three members of Great White already have been served with court orders, and their tour bus seized and searched.

The lawyer for the rock band Great White confirmed that its surviving members have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury investigating the deadly fire at a Rhode Island nightclub.

Attorney Edwin McPherson said he is asking the Rhode Island attorney general's office to postpone the questioning because band members are still distraught over last week's events.

Great White guitarist Ty Longley was among the 97 people killed in the blaze.

Other published reports also said investigators have searched the home of one of the club's co-owners. Their attorney says the owners are cooperating with authorities. That claim is disputed by the state attorney general, who also would not say whether a grand jury will be convened.

Attorney General Patrick Lynch has said he does not believe the Derderians have cooperated with investigators, but spokesman Mike Healey said Tuesday: "We're not pitting the band against the Derderians."

Theresa Rakoski of Taunton, Mass., is among those missing and presumed dead. Her husband Richard returned home from Afghanistan, where he was serving with his Army National Guard unit, the 772nd Military Police Company.

They were married last June, just one week before Richard shipped out.

He told the Taunton Gazette that Theresa told him on the phone Thursday afternoon that she was going to The Station that night with her sister and a friend. All three are missing; Theresa's car was found in the club's parking lot.

"I don't understand how this could be happen," said Rakoski. "The world is a very cruel place."

The Army arranged for Rakoski to return from Afghanistan immediately. He had been due to return this Friday, and the couple had planned to enjoy their delayed honeymoon.

She kept telling me to be careful and return home safe," he told the paper. "I promised her I wouldn't take any unnecessary risks."

Thousands of people attended two memorial services late Monday, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Knight, and members of Rakoski's National Guard unit say if they're back from Afghanistan in time, they will attend Theresa's funeral.

Meanwhile, Gov. Don Carcieri said 93 of the 97 bodies have been identified. The governor also said there was a discrepancy between the number of people reported missing and those confirmed dead, and search crews using dogs were expected to go over the charred ruins again to look for bodies.

"This is a tough, very, very tough process and the families and the impacts of this thing are rippling throughout the state," Carcieri said.

Meanwhile, investigators in the West Warwick club tragedy were focusing in part on the soundproofing material that burst into flames, and trying to determine if the panels were made of a highly flammable polyurethane foam.

Investigators are awaiting a lab analysis to determine exactly what the soundproofing tiles were made of. State law bars flammable acoustic material from the walls of gathering spaces such as bars and clubs.

"If it was (polyurethane), then the governor's going to want an answer to the question, 'Why was it there?'" the governor's spokesman, Jeff Neal, said Monday.

As they worked, thousands of people turned out to mourn the victims who died in the inferno last Thursday at The Station.

The fire began last Thursday during the first song of the night by the band Great White. Pyrotechnics apparently set fire to soundproofing behind and above the stage, sending flames ripping through the club in minutes.

The band has said it had permission to use the special effects, a claim disputed by the club's owners.

Some soundproofing experts who have seen television video of the disaster said that because the building was quickly engulfed by flames and awash in black smoke, they believe the material used at The Station was polyurethane foam — a commonly used, inexpensive alternative to fire-resistant panels many experts prefer.

"It's a common mistake many people make, not evaluating their materials," said P.J. Nash, a national soundproofing distributor based in San Diego, Calif. "Polyurethane foam is extremely flammable, and if you breath that smoke, it's going to knock you out in a minute."

A polyurethane panel typically costs about $150 while a melamine panel, which experts say withstands heat and is tested for fire resistance, sells for nearly $250.

The club passed a fire inspection Dec. 31, but it wasn't clear if the soundproofing material was checked or would normally be during a routine inspection. West Warwick Fire Chief Charles Hall declined comment on the investigation.

State Attorney General Patrick Lynch wouldn't comment Monday on whether the material had been identified but said: "It's certainly one of the elements we're looking at."

In West Warwick, 15 miles southwest of Providence, thousands of friends and relatives — many with tears in their eyes — gathered at the city's civic center to remember the 97 victims.

"All of us who were raised in West Warwick who attended local schools and who make our homes here are grieving especially. This is a tragedy that will take years for our close knit community to come to grips with," state House Speaker William Murphy said.

About a dozen school bus drivers came to say goodbye to one of their colleagues, Robert Reisner, 29, who was remembered as a rock 'n' roll fan who would bend over backward for anyone. They came to the vigil in Reisner's bus.

"There is no doubt in my mind that he was letting people out of the club in front of him," said bus driver Danny Manns. "He was a gentleman."

Earlier in nearby Warwick, hundreds of people packed St. Gregory the Great Church to pay tribute to the victims with songs and prayers. One pastor asked the grieving families to hold up pictures of their lost relatives so mourners can "know for a moment those you loved."

"It's true that some good may come from this disaster, but the event itself is only tragic and will never make sense," the Rev. John E. Holt said at St. Gregory the Great Church.

The governor on Monday announced the creation of a relief fund for people affected by the tragedy and a tip line for anyone who was at the club and had information that might help investigators. The attorney general asked that anyone with photographs or videotape of the club's interior contact his office.

Carcieri has declared a moratorium on pyrotechnic displays at venues that hold fewer than 300 people. Deputy fire marshals began sweeping through Rhode Island clubs Monday.

Authorities have also begun interviewing employees at nightclubs in other states where employees say Great White used pyrotechnics without prior notice. The attorney general wouldn't confirm or deny a broadcast report that a grand jury would convene later this week.

A New Jersey State Police spokesman told the Associated Press that interviews were conducted with employees of the Stone Pony nightclub in Asbury Park at the request of Rhode Island State Police. The Stone Pony's owners say the band Great White used pyrotechnics Feb. 14 without warning the managers.

That wasn't the case in West Warwick, said the attorney for the band. McPherson maintains that the club told the band using fireworks was all right.

"He made very specific references to the special effects that the band wanted to use, asked Mike's permissions to use them, Mike said 'fine,'" McPherson told CBS Radio station WBZ-AM Boston.

According to CBS Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen, "If the evidence supports it, we are likely to see involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide charges brought against a few individuals. These charges would not require state or local prosecutors to prove that anyone intended to kill anyone."

"All prosecutors would have to prove is that the suspects, whomever they may turn out to be, acted recklessly or without proper caution or some other similar standard. We also could see forms of 'reckless endangerment' charges or even obstruction of justice charges if it turns out that people were not initially as forthcoming as they should have been at the outset of the investigations," says Cohen.

"In short, the litigation now on its way will be chaotic. It will be ugly. It will be awfully difficult to follow and will take years and years to resolve," he says.