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Great White attorney says singer will seek immunity; dealer says club bought cheap packing foam

Updated:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ The singer for a band whose pyrotechnics display set off last week's disastrous nightclub fire will ask for immunity from prosecution before testifying to a grand jury, his attorney said Friday. And an insulation dealer said club owners bought flammable packing foam, not soundproofing foam, to use in the club.

``We'll be there (Friday),'' attorney Neil Philbin, who represents Great White lead singer Jack Russell, told The Associated Press. ``What happens next remains to be determined.''

A grand jury investigating the fire at The Station in West Warwick _ the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history _ met Wednesday at a National Guard compound but no one has yet testified, sources have told the AP.

Talks among lawyers took place Thursday, and the grand jury was expected to reconvene on Friday to continue its review to decide if criminal charges should be issued. State police confirmed the grand jurors arrived at their meeting place Friday morning.

Meanwhile, investigators have taken samples of foam packaging products from a company in Johnston that supplied the nightclub's owners with material that was installed to appease neighbors upset by the club's noise.

Aram DerManouelian, president of American Foam Corp., said the soundproofing was purchased for $575 in June 2000. That was a few months after the Derderian brothers bought The Station.

DerManouelian said his records show the club bought 25 sheets of foam, which he described as egg-crate packaging material. The invoice does not say who at the club ordered it.

The company doesn't manufacture the foam, but cuts it, he said. The firm also doesn't sell insulation specifically designed for acoustical purposes, only packaging material, he said.

``They wanted the lowest grade, the cheapest stuff,'' he told The Associated Press on Friday. ``They asked for egg-crate material and that's what we sold them. It's good packaging material. You just can't light it on fire. We sell fire-retardant foam, but that's not what they were looking for. ... It costs about twice as much.''

Meanwhile, officials announced that one of the injured, Linda Suffoletto, had died early Friday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. No age or hometown was immediately available.

Her death brought the toll from the Feb. 20 fire back up to 97.

Gov. Don Carcieri had said Thursday the death toll had dropped by one, to 96, after the medical examiner finished examining all the remains. About 60 people remained hospitalized, including around 35 in critical condition.

Fire investigators believe the shower of sparks from the pyrotechnic display ignited soundproofing behind the stage, sending flames through the one-story wooden building.

Those connected with the band maintain they had the nightclub's permission to set off the display, something the club's owners deny.

Attorney Thomas Briody said Thursday that when his client, Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele, met with a ``high-ranking club representative'' a week before the show, The Station told him the club wanted pyrotechnics.

``Any suggestion that Great White did not have permission to display pyrotechnics is simply false,'' Briody said.

Jeffrey Pine, a lawyer for Jeffrey Derderian, said Michael Derderian spoke with a band representative about food and other provisions the band wanted _ but there was no mention of pyrotechnics.

Attorney Kathleen Hagerty, who represents Michael Derderian, did not return calls for comment.

Legal experts and fire investigators say the Derderians, along with band members, could be indicted on state charges of involuntary manslaughter or second-degree murder.

Investigators are trying to determine if the club was overcrowded. The Station's maximum legal capacity was 300. Carcieri originally said there may have been between 340 and 350 people there the night of the fire, but now says there's conflicting information.

Booking agent Mark Hyman said Thursday when he booked the metal band Quiet Riot at the club in June 2002, the contract for the show said the club's capacity was 550.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology said it will investigate the disaster, including the building's materials, its exits and the number of people inside that night.

Also Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Carcieri's request for disaster relief. Carcieri called the decision ``disappointing but not entirely unexpected.'' He said the state may appeal.

About $500,000 has been donated to a fund to help survivors and relatives of those who died with short-term needs such as funeral and travel expenses.
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