RI club owner in fatal fire case out of prison

June 25, 2009 6:24:19 PM PDT
A former co-owner of a Rhode Island nightclub where a fire killed 100 people was released from prison Thursday after earning time off for good behavior. Michael Derderian, who was initially due out this fall, said that his time in prison was difficult but that others have suffered worse.

He said in a statement that he plans to contribute to a nonprofit fund he started with his brother and fellow club-owner, Jeffrey, to raise money for education costs for children who lost parents in the February 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick.

"I would also be willing to speak about my experience while incarcerated in the hopes that it may deter people from making the wrong choices," Derderian said in a statement posted on The Station Education Fund Web site.

Derderian, who was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter, was freed after spending less than three years behind bars.

He was given credit for good behavior and for participating in programs that moved up his release date, said corrections department spokeswoman Tracey Zeckhausen.

The Feb. 20, 2003, fire began when pyrotechnics used by the rock band Great White ignited cheap foam that the Derderians used as soundproofing around the stage.

Jeffrey Derderian avoided prison time after pleading no contest to the same charges. Former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele, who set off the pyrotechnics as a flashy stage prop, was released on parole last year after serving less than half his four-year prison sentence.

Family members of victims angrily objected to an early release for Derderian at a parole hearing in January 2008, saying he had never shown proper remorse. The parole board set his release for this October without scheduling another hearing.

"That makes me sick to my stomach," Bonnie Hoisington, whose daughter, Abbie, 28, died in the fire, said Thursday after learning of Derderian's release. "Just another kick in the teeth as far as I'm concerned."

James Gahan, whose 21-year-old son, Jimmy, died in the fire, said he hoped Derderian would commit himself to promoting public safety. But he said the early release contributes to a broader sense that justice was not served. Victims' relatives were upset with the lengths of prison sentences and that more people didn't face criminal charges after the fire.

"The punishment of his own feelings of guilt is probably going to weigh a lot more heavy than the time that he's spent in prison," Gahan said.

Derderian was disciplined soon after arriving in prison for breaking rules, including for receiving food from his wife while at his work-release job. He was moved from the prison's minimum-security to medium security.

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