Rhode Island nightclub fire site donated for memorial to victims

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts Fri Sep 28, 2012 2:59pm EDT

Station Night Club fire survivor Mike Ricardi, 20, of Worcester, Massachusetts, stands in front of a cross placed as a shrine to his friend Jim Gahen, who perished along with 99 others in the February 20, 2003 Station Night Club fire, December 9, 2003 in West Warwick, Rhode Island. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Station Night Club fire survivor Mike Ricardi, 20, of Worcester, Massachusetts, stands in front of a cross placed as a shrine to his friend Jim Gahen, who perished along with 99 others in the February 20, 2003 Station Night Club fire, December 9, 2003 in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - A Rhode Island land owner on Friday donated the site of a nightclub where 100 people died in a 2003 fire for a long-planned permanent memorial to victims of the nightmarish blaze.

Ray Villanova transferred the site in West Warwick, Rhode Island, to The Station Fire Memorial Foundation, an organization of victims' friends and relatives, said Victoria Eagan, the group's vice president and a survivor of the fire.

The property had been tied up in litigation for years, she said.

On February 20, 2003, sparks from the hard rock band Great White's fireworks show ignited the small wooden building's highly flammable foam sound insulation. Nearly a third of the crowd of 458 people were trapped.

In addition to those who died, some 200 people were injured. Many of the survivors were left with permanent injuries, such as burns and missing limbs.

Since the blaze, mourners have maintained a temporary memorial on the property, originally erecting 100 crosses fashioned from debris from the nightclub.

In 2009, hundreds of survivors and victims' relatives reached a $176 million settlement with more than 50 defendants in cases filed as a result of the fire.

The band's tour manager and two men who owned the nightclub pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Eagan said the group would move ahead with plans for the memorial, with groundbreaking next year on the 10th anniversary of the fire.

"This is a very, very positive milestone toward the last step, we feel, in getting a permanent memorial built," said Eagan. "We're very humbled and honored to be the people entrusted with this responsibility."

A lawyer representing Villanova in the transfer of the property deed did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)

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