The former tour manager for heavy metal rock group Great White has pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter for setting off pyrotechnics that caused one of the deadliest nightclub fires in US history.
Daniel Biechele, 29, will serve no more than 10 years in prison under the plea deal, which comes two weeks before the three-year anniversary of the fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island. He will be sentenced on May 8.
Biechele stood with his hands clasped and answered “Yes, your honour,” in a soft voice as a judge asked if he understood the proceedings.
Dozens of relatives packed the courtroom in Providence to witness the plea - the first time anyone has taken responsibility for the fire. One mother held up a small photograph of her dead daughter throughout the hearing. Other women held tissues or dabbed at their eyes.
The fire on February 20 2003 at the West Warwick nightclub killed 100 people and injured more than 200 others. Sparks from Biechele’s pyrotechnics display ignited flammable soundproofing foam inside the nightclub, fuelling a fast-moving fire that quickly enveloped the one-story wooden building and tapped concertgoers.
Biechele and brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, who owned the nightclub, were each indicted in December 2003 on 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter - two for every person who died. Each count carries a maximum of 30 years in prison. No one else has been charged.
The Derderians, accused of installing the foam, have pleaded not guilty.
Biechele pleaded guilty to 100 counts that accused him of lighting the pyrotechnics without the required permit, resulting in the deaths. An additional 100 counts are being dismissed, sparing Biechele what could have been many more years behind bars.