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Families visit scene of deadly nightclub fire

Rhode Island governor: 42 victims identified

Law enforcement officers and others stand in front of a makeshift memorial Sunday where The Station nightclub stood.
Law enforcement officers and others stand in front of a makeshift memorial Sunday where The Station nightclub stood.

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Family members visit the charred shell of the Rhode Island nightclub where 97 of their loved ones died. CNN's Bob Franken reports (February 24)
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Jeffrey Derderian denies his club gave permission for fireworks during a concert. CNN's Keith Oppenheim reports (February 23)
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Great White's Jack Russell tells WCVB he's devastated (February 21)
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News footage captures the start of the deadly fire (February 21)
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WEST WARWICK, Rhode Island (CNN) -- About 200 family members visited the charred remains of the Rhode Island nightclub Sunday afternoon to mourn at the spot where 97 of their loved ones died.

Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri said after the visit that many of the relatives expressed thanks for the chance to visit the charred remains of The Station club, which burned to the ground Thursday night after pyrotechnics from the rock band Great White's stage show ignited soundproofing material behind the stage. The resulting flames quickly engulfed the building.

The relatives were taken to the site in buses, and reporters were barred from the area. Carcieri said the families thanked the media for respecting their privacy and various federal, state, local and private agencies for offering them help and support after the disaster

Officials put black fabric over chain-link fences around the club to shield family members from spectators and the media.

Carcieri announced that the official death toll had risen to 97 because a body had been found during a search of the building but excluded from the original total.

Carcieri said 42 victims had been identified. He said forensic teams were working around the clock and that he hoped all of the victims would be identified by Monday.

"My whole focus right now is to get the identifications completed as soon as possible so those families can find closure."

One of the victims apparently was Great White guitarist Ty Longley. A statement on the band's Web site Sunday said Longley has been identified as one of the 97 who died.

Eighty people remain in hospitals, Carcieri said.

Carcieri announced that the state had introduced a moratorium on the use of pyrotechnics at clubs of similar size, which would be inspected by fire marshals in the near future.

Carcieri said an interfaith memorial service would be held at a church Monday at 5 p.m. EST, and a vigil at the West Warwick Civic Center is planned for 6 p.m.

Dispute over permission

The question of who authorized Great White to use the pyrotechnics is in dispute. The band said it had permission from the club's owner. The owner said he had no advance knowledge of the devices.

Speaking at a news conference Saturday evening, club owner Jeffrey Derderian said the disaster "will haunt my family and I for the rest of our lives."

He insisted that club management did not give permission for Great White to use pyrotechnics onstage, which started the fire.

Derderian sobbed as he described the devastation his family felt in the wake of this "horrific human tragedy."

"This tragedy has claimed the lives of our friends," Derderian said. "Even though I tried as hard as I could, many people didn't make it out, and that is a horror that will haunt my family and I for the rest of our lives."

Derderian said Great White, known for the hit song "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," never requested permission either from him or his partner and brother, Michael, to use pyrotechnics.

"No permission was ever requested by the band or any of its agents to use pyrotechnics at The Station, and no permission was ever given," he said.

But Ed McPherson, an attorney for the '80s heavy metal band, disputed that.

"There where very specific conversations between the tour manager and one of the club owners about the special effects being used," McPherson said.

"The club owner gave them permission to use it. The other club owner, who I understand is his brother, was actually there while they were setting it up.

"And now they are saying that they didn't have any prior knowledge of it and had no idea that they were going to do this."

Operators of two other clubs where Great White played recently told CNN that the band had used pyrotechnics without permission. Other clubs where the band played said it did not use them.

Newspapers in Boston, Massachusetts, reported Sunday that several other bands said they had played at the West Warwick club and had gotten verbal permission to use pyrotechnics.

The band had just started playing when the fire broke out about 11 p.m.

West Warwick Fire Chief Charlie Hall said fire engulfed the wooden building in less than three minutes. Most of the victims were found crowded together at the front door, despite the fact that the building had three other functioning exits, he said.

Some victims died of smoke inhalation, and others were trampled to death, he said.

Other groups of bodies were found in the back bar area and the restrooms, Hall said.

Three other exits were illuminated by battery-powered lights, but patrons might not have been able to see them because of the thick, black smoke that quickly filled the club.

Regulations in force when the club was built in the late 1950s did not require it to be fitted with sprinklers, but it did have a fire alarm -- which went off -- and the required number of fire extinguishers and battery-powered exit lights, officials said.

Asked if criminal charges would be brought against anyone, Carcieri said the investigation had not determined who was at fault.

"You have to be careful. If there was wrongdoing and a crime has been committed, then someone should go to jail. I am not saying that is the case here," he said. "I am also not saying this was just an unfortunate accident."

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said his office will investigate to determine where the responsibility lies.

"I, of course, am focused particularly to see whether or not criminal charges are appropriate," Lynch told "CNN Sunday Night." "I believe that the Derderians would ... appreciate the opportunity to help us all get to the bottom of this and answer some questions that are outstanding."

The band has been cooperative with authorities, Lynch said, but Jeffrey Derderian has only spoken with them once, just after the fire. Lynch said he hoped Derderian and his brother would answer more questions.

It was the second fatal incident at a U.S. club in recent days. Twenty-one people died Monday and more than 50 were injured in a nightclub stampede in Chicago, Illinois, that apparently began when a security guard used pepper spray to break up a fight. (Full story)

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