Em B, a 33-year-old Oakland poet who also worked as a barista and baker, was described by her former partner and roommate as "the best person in the world." The transgender woman's death was confirmed by the Alameda County coroner in calls to her father, Jack Bohlka, and to the former partner, Natalie Jahanbani. "I really want to express my support to Em and to all the transgender community," her father said. "I know that's what Em wanted." Em B grew up in Claremont (Los Angeles County). She earned a bachelor's degree in English from UC Riverside and a master's degree in literature from Cal Poly Pomona. She presented as a female earlier this year, Jahanbani said. "There's a sparseness of the tongue," she wrote in a poem published last year in the Pomona Valley Review. "A not-quite-what-I-mean all of the time, I mean ... the word is not the thing — but why? I'd ask the sky but it's only S-K-Y. ... I ask you, how can the universe fit between A and Z?" Em B had worked as a Starbucks barista in Southern California before coming to the Bay Area, where she got a job as a baker with Firebrand Artisan Breads in Oakland and as a barista at Highwire Coffee Roasters in Oakland. There she worked with her friend and fellow barista Donna Kellogg. The two went together Friday night to the electronic music show at the Ghost Ship, the converted warehouse in Oakland where the fire happened. Kellogg also died in the blaze.
Em B was a gardener who raised vegetables in her backyard and was an accomplished photographer. She was devoted to her dog, a shepherd mix named Baroness, whom she used to walk in the evening along the shore of Lake Merritt in Oakland. "Em was the most caring, compassionate person I've ever met," said Jahanbani, who was her partner for seven years. "The most infectious, funny sweet person."
Micah Danemayer, 28, was an Oakland promoter dedicated to bringing people together and showcasing new performers, said DJ Nihar Bhatt. Danemayer worked for an ongoing experimental music series called “Trance Mutations,” under the company name of Obscura Machina. He often projected films on a wall during other artists’ sets, and was doing so the night of the fire.“He was so passionate for the underground, for people to have a chance,” Bhatt said. Danemayer was a 2011 graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where he studied at the Studio for Interrelated Media, a self-directed program encompassing sound, installation, performance, conceptual art, and live event production.
Image Top Right - Pam Krueger and Chris Danemayer, parents of the late Micah Danemayer, stand for a portrait holding a photograph of their son in their Somerville,Mass. ...Nita Sturiale, chair of the program, said Danemayer “was like a perpetual wide-eyed child, and always willing to try new things,” and “was goofy and edgy.” His father, Chris Danemayer, in a statement issued through the college, said his son moved to Oakland a year after he graduated. “He just exploded there, doing exactly what he wanted to do,” his father said. The family established a scholarship fund at the college. A wonderful charming, eccentric beauty of a young man, he played the synthesizer and started his own record label to release outsider electronic music said a fellow musician. "I've never met anybody so passionate, not only for his own art and music but for everyone else's as well" His girlfriend, Jennifer Mendiola, also died.
Feral Pines, a garage band bass player and art school graduate who was always trailed by a rescue dog, was confirmed dead Monday in the fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland.
"A very soft, sensitive, caring person," said her father, Bruce Fritz of Westport, Conn. "A very gentle soul. Never had a bad word to say about other people." Pines, who was 29 and previously went by Riley Fritz, was a transgender woman and one of several transgender people to perish in the inferno. She had moved from out of state to Oakland in September and was living with friends while raising a rescue dog named Grimma, said her father. "Always loved animals," said Bruce Fritz, who noted that as her childhood Eagle Scout project Riley had built wooden bird houses and placed them around Westport in an attempt to lure back the native kestrel, a member of the falcon family. Sure enough, the birds returned, attracted to those houses and habitat. "They were trying to help the population recover," said the elder Fritz. "It's always nice to see that it works." Pines was born and raised in Westport, an affluent New York City suburb across the Connecticut line, on Long Island Sound. Both of her parents are realtors. She played youth hockey and was a dedicated Cub Scout and Boy Scout, attending scout jamborees as far away as Scotland.
She attended public schools and, at Staples High School, she hosted a radio show on the campus station, introducing Ska to student listeners. She took up the bass, played in several bands and always had a jam going in the garage. She graduated in 2005 and moved to New York City to study printmaking at the School of Visual Arts. "She identified as a woman and I considered her my sister and always will," said stepbrother Ben Fritz, 39, a Los Angeles journalist. "As is true of all trans people, life was hard for her, but she was very brave in following a path that is true to herself." After living in North Carolina and Indiana, Pines moved to Oakland in September, to "be part of the trans community where she was more comfortable," said her brother. She worked odd jobs and had plans to start a new band. "When I saw her at Thanksgiving, she was the happiest I had seen her in while," he said.
Alex Ghassan was the last person to document the scene inside the Ghost Ship warehouse on the night of December 2. A longtime storyteller and filmmaker, he had a camera running around 10:30 as scene regulars started to gather in anticipation of sets from 100% Silk’s Bay Area contingent. The time stamp on the footage, posted on his Instagram that night, is eerie. Less than an hour later, Alex and his girlfriend, the Finnish artist Hanna Ruax, would be trapped in the building alongside 34 others. Ghassan, who directed under the name Alex G, liked to work. His ambition and the joy he found in collaborating with new people took him overseas and gave him a reputation as a magnetic figure. Years earlier, in New York, he filmed projects with rap mainstays like Talib Kweli, Bodega Bamz, and Masta Ace. He and Skyzoo worked together often. After moving to Oakland and living there for two years, he put together short documentaries on artists and Oakland institutions for local NPR affiliate KQED. His reel showcases work with everyone from Aloe Blacc to Dwyane Wade to one of his idols, Spike Lee.
The rapper Fresh Daily was a good friend of Alex’s. The two met back in New York, on a friend’s video shoot in Brooklyn, and months later, Alex was showing up at Fresh’s house nearly every day to explore the city and try out new gear. Fresh describes Alex as his “biggest supporter,” a fiercely loyal friend who encouraged his creative efforts at every turn. The sentiment, and the sense of how he impacted people, is almost universal. “People loved Alex,” another friend of his, Eric Purvis told me, “I feel like he made his journey a lot easier by being such a good person.” Alex had an irreverent, contagious sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Another friend, writer and A&R Richardine Bartee, remembered bear hugs and heated creative arguments, almost in the same breath. “We would fight like cats and dogs,” she said, “but we made up like brother and sister.” At 35, Alex left a lot behind. His twin daughters, Lucienne and Alexandria turned 4 that year. Their names were tattooed across his knuckles. He was in love with Hanna, and felt a sense of purpose living in a creative community that embraced him. Over the phone from New York, Fresh spoke on who Alex Ghassan was, and what we can learn from how he lived.
A memorial near the site of the Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire. | Photo: Josh Edelson/Getty Images
Candles and offerings left for the lives claimed by the Ghost Ship Fire. | Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
Wherever musician Edmond Lapine, 34, made his home -- be it Park City, Utah; Olympia, Washington; or Oakland -- others couldn't help but be drawn to his wisdom, generosity and undeniable creativity. "He's just a magnetic person. Edmond was one of the purest hearts," says Colleen Johnson, a friend of Lapine's from Evergreen State College in Olympia, where they connected through a mutual friend and a shared love of music. "For a lot of us, music is our entire world, and everything that matters happens within that framework,” Johnson says. “I feel he embodied that completely. He was so dedicated to the scene.” Sami Long Kopelman, Lapine’s mother, says her son was drawn to music even as a child. Lapine loved to record his voice on a Fisher-Price cassette player she’d given him when he was young, and over time he collected other instruments and tools that fostered his love for the medium. “After declaring he wanted to be a rock star and becoming part of a local Park City, Utah, teen band, it was nearly impossible to get Edmond into any other hobby or activity,” Kopelman says. A self-taught guitarist, Lapine played in various bands around the Northwest before moving to Oakland two years ago, drawn by the city's vibrant electronic music scene. He produced music under the moniker Cool d'Etat, a DJ name marked by an irreverent humor that Johnson says reflects Lapine’s "curmudgeonly joie de vivre.”
But what truly seemed to sustain Lapine was the sense of community that music brings. “Even though he liked a lot of different stuff and I liked a lot of different stuff, there was overlap, and I could always tell that he would steer our conversations about music to where that overlap existed so we could relate to each other,” Lapine's former coworker David Adelson told the San Francisco Chronicle. Joshua James Amberson, who performed with Lapine in the music group Letters, wrote about the times they'd shared obsessing over music together and the support they'd provided each other. "Even though I hadn't seen him since he moved to the Bay a couple years ago, I always knew Edmond was rooting for me, believing in me, and I hope he knew that I rooted and believed in him in the same way," Amberson wrote. It's that support that sticks in Johnson's mind most when she thinks back on her friendship with Lapine. She recalls the time when Lapine approached her after a show she played with her band Upside Drown a few years ago: "He was talking to me and said, 'Colleen, what you just did - that is why I play music. That’s why I’m here, that was everything.'" Johnson says. "It meant a lot to hear that from somebody who’s a dynamic and incredibly intelligent person.” Roxy Blank, Lapine's partner, remembers him the same way, with a combination of "insight, emotional intelligence, and his general intellect" -- and she was enchanted, she says, "from the moment I met him."
Jenny Morris, a 21-year-old UC Berkeley student, was the kind of person everyone wanted to hang out with: sincere, genuine and without artifice. “Jenny was such a beautiful, loving, caring, intelligent, bright shining star,” her cousin Drew Morris told the crowd gathered for a vigil on the UC Berkeley campus in the wake of the Oakland warehouse fire. Drew Morris said he saw his cousin last summer at a family reunion, where she fixed a technical problem on one of his devices. He and his wife had spent all day wrestling with it as they traveled to the reunion, and Morris fixed it in about 20 seconds. That willingness to lend a hand wasn’t just for friends and family, say those who knew her. Morris shone her light equally on everyone she met. Morris attended San Mateo High School, were she excelled academically (studying pre-calculus as a sophomore, and AP statistics as a senior) as well as artistically, participating in the school choir. “There was a sweet quality to her,” says San Mateo High School choral director Shawn Reifschaneider. “She was honest and authentic and pure. I liken it to the sweet elegance of Audrey Hepburn, and it was endearing to everyone around her.”
When Morris pulled out her ukulele and settled in to sing, Reifschaneider says, the other kids would gather around her, cross-legged on the floor, some joining in with their own ukuleles. “She was the one who drew everyone together.” San Mateo High math teacher Jared Wilke says his son was in choir with Morris. “He used to ask her to protect him every time they went to sing in a church, so he wouldn’t burn up,” Wilke says. “She’d laugh about it.” Former San Mateo High student David Huang remembers Morris’ captivating voice. “One of the most magical things is hearing her sing,” Huang says. “She’s so into it, so focused in it. It’s like she was the music.” Huang is now at the Rhode Island School of Design, but he and Morris regularly got together during college breaks. He remembers Morris pulling up to the curb in her car to pick him up with a big smile on her face. Then the pair would have long talks in cafes. Huang would pull out his sketchbook to draw her as they talked. “I’m not afraid to keep a sketchbook when I’m around her,” Huang says. “She appreciated it. With other people, they would think I’m doing something outside the conversation, but for Jenny it was part of the conversation. Art and music were natural to her.”
Morris went from high school to UC Santa Cruz, and then did a stint at College of San Mateo before transferring to UC Berkeley. She began volunteering this semester at KALX, the university’s radio station, working in the music department. Staff remember how excited she was to discover new music as it arrived at the station. Morris was one of four KALX volunteers who died in the Ghost Ship fire; others include Vanessa Plotkin (Morris’ best friend), Griffin Madden, and Chelsea Faith Dolan. “It’s been devastating to people at the station,” station manager Sandra Wasson says. “Our DJs are doing lots of on-air tributes, playing music to help the community heal.” Morris’ family is deeply moved by the outpouring of love received from the many people whose lives she touched, says brother Chris Morris. “I found this tweet from about a year ago, where she said, ‘2015 was a year of blessings,’” Chris Morris says. "'In 2016 I will be smarter, more humbled and more aligned with the person that I want to be and would be proud of.'"
Jennifer “Kiyomi” Tanouye, 31, of Oakland last texted her dad about 6 p.m. on Friday night. She was on her way to paint nails as part of a regular underground nail bar she helped out with at music venues. This venue was on East 31st Avenue in Fruitvale, at a warehouse now infamously known as the “Ghost Ship.” She and her dad, Court Tanouye, had been exchanging messages about when and where to hand over some dog toys she had left at his house in Alamo, Calif., belonging to her pooch, Jejune. Father and daughter didn’t get specific, but they were supposed to meet Saturday morning for breakfast, Court Tanouye said. Instead, his daughter, who liked to be called “Kiyomi,” which means “pure” and “beauty” in Japanese, died Friday night in a tragic fire. “That’s where she wanted to be,” Court Tanouye said in an interview on Friday, a day before a private memorial at a Bay Area temple for her. “She was a big part of that community and instrumental in the music scene. She would have been there regardless. These musicians can’t afford expensive venues. At this point, being angry isn’t going to change anything. It won’t help us heal.” Her mother, Tomoko Tanouye added: “This has nothing to do with Buddhism. This is who we are.”
The Tanouye family don't want to ponder on the past, They are all, including brothers Kevin, 26, and Chris, 29, helping each other, in grieving and putting on a funeral. Chris Tanouye is working on his eulogy. He’s likely to touch on the time his older sister took him to a Velvet Teen concert in San Francisco for the first time when he was 17 – and without parents. “We ate Vietnamese food, I got to hang out with college kids. She was so inviting. I felt so cool,” he recalled. She also took him to Lalapalooza in Chicago. “I had so much fun. I will cherish that trip.” Kevin Tanouye called his sister “genuine.” She was always there to help, he said, including a time recently when he was designing a T-shirt and she tried to put him in touch with someone in the know about making his idea happen. Tanouye lived her early years in Japan and England before moving to the Bay Area and attending Monte Vista High School in Danville, where her family remembers her taking on controversial causes, like supporting the Gay Straight Alliance Club. She then attended Mills College in Oakland, where she graduated with a degree in biology, as well as minors in film and music, her family said. She was a music manager for the music-recognition app, Shazam, in Redwood City, and she was an early organizer of the Mission Creek Festival in Oakland. She often fought for causes that she believed in, like taking to the streets, for example, to protest the Iraq War.
Family photo From left to right: Chris, Jennifer "Kiyomi," Kevin and Tomoko Tanouye at Oliveto in Oakland, Sept. 24, 2016. Photo credit: Court Tanouye - The Tanouyes got a call from their daughter’s friend at 3:55 a.m. Saturday about the fire. They hopped out of bed and drove to the scene, checking out hospitals and getting no answers until 12:30 a.m. Sunday that she had died. They had picked up her dog in the meantime, which is where Jejune is now, together with the small Tanouye clan. They are filled with sadness, but they are helping each other work through the grief. “We are all hurt,” Court Tanouye said, “but we’re doing this together.”
David Cline, 24, an Oakland resident, played the clarinet and loved volleyball. "To David, we love you. You will be with us always," his brother, Neil Cline, wrote in a brief Facebook post thanking those who supported the family in the agonizing hours since the fire. Before preparing to enroll at UC Berkeley in 2011, Cline led his Santa Monica High volleyball team to a state championship. He studied clarinet for 10 years with Amanda Jane Walker, an arts and music lecturer at UC Irvine. Walker called Cline's death "heartbreaking and devastating" on her Facebook page. She posted the brief autobiography Cline had prepared to accompany his senior clarinet recital, in which he described himself as "a devoted volleyball player" who enjoyed "late night walks in the park," the beach, and "sunshine with his friends."
But Cline mainly used the biography as a tribute to the music teacher he had known since second grade, describing their relationship as one of camaraderie, compassion and trust. Walker wrote that she never thought she would have reason to say such a farewell to her student. But she did. "I will miss you very much David and I love you," she wrote. "I am so honored to have known you and to call myself your teacher. What an outstanding person you were."David Riley Cline’s smile brought joy to those around him. The 24-year-old was a 2015 UC Berkeley graduate with a double major in cognitive and computer science. Cline attended the Ghost Ship event with his friend, Griffin Madden. Cline’s family describes him as a ferociously brilliant student with an impossibly bright mind. “Everyone who ever met David knows that his smile and his presence changed every person that was lucky enough to feel his warmth and light,” his family writes in a statement. “He was kind, open, non-judgmental and excited about life and people.”
Cline graduated from Santa Monica High School, where he led the men’s volleyball team to a state-wide championship. His teammate, Blake Bijari, says Cline was an incredible athlete and leader who also had a charming, goofy side.
"I remember when we would huddle up before matches, he'd hype us up,” says Bijari. “He would make these noises, and yell and scream, and no one would understand what he’s saying — but it got us all hyped up and then we'd go out and play." Cline was also a keen clarinetist and played the instrument since second grade. His clarinet teacher, Amanda Jane Walker, shared a reminiscence of Cline on Facebook. Walker once asked her students to write their biographies for a recital, and Cline wrote that he was looking forward to a summer of, “spending time at the beach, enjoying the sunshine with his friends, and observing a variety of aquatic mammals.”
“David was an incredible man, an amazing brother, a perfect son and an inspiring friend to everyone who was fortunate enough to have him in their lives,” his family says.
Family, friends, former teachers, coaches and Coronado community members filled a memorial service for one of their own on Wednesday: a young man killed in the devastating warehouse fire in Oakland, California, which claimed the lives of dozens. Nick Gomez Hall, a 2009 graduate of Coronado High School, was one of the 36 people killed in the fire. Childhood friends tell NBC 7 San Diego that Gomez Hall, 25, was an amazing person who was always looking for an adventure, and, along the way, the best in people. Gomez Hall’s sailing coach in Coronado calls his death a “tragedy for the whole town." "It's just, it is the hardest part to swallow is you never want to say that people don't deserve something but, you know, a wonderful family like that doesn't deserve it," said Jon Rogers, Gomez Hall's former coach. Gomez Hall was a member of a sailing team throughout high school and would practice at Coronado Yacht Club. He first started when he was nine years old and spent countless hours there with friends, taking lessons, friends said.
Rogers said that Gomez Hall was naturally talented at sailing, and didn't have to take classes non-stop to continue to get better.
He was so good that kids at the high school would fight over being partners with him.
After high school, Gomez Hall worked at the Yacht Club, helping teach younger sailors everything he learned through his years of enjoying the sport. Gomez Hall's former coach remembering how he responded when being under pressure. "The coaches have a lot of responsibility, it's a challenge to send them out there depending on the conditions," said Rogers. "If these boats capsize, they semi-sink. On a windy day, if you've got three or four kids tipped over at the same time, it puts a lot of stress on a coach. He never got stressed." Gomez Hall is also being mourned all over social media by friends across the country. In one online post, a childhood friend said that growing up with Gomez Hall was an “incredible gift.”
In another social media post, The Steel Yard in Rhode Island – where Gomez Hall attended college – called him an inspiration and a friend. Gomez Hall was part of a band. “The Indy” college newspaper posted about his band, saying they’re deeply feeling the impact of the young man’s loss. In Berkeley, California, publishing house Counterpoint Press also posted a tribute on Facebook to Gomez Hall, saying they’re devastated over his death, saying he was a part of their family.
Counterpoint is devastated over the loss of our co-worker and dear friend Nick Gomez-hall due to the Oakland Ghost Ship fire. From the second Nick started at Counterpoint, he became part of our family. Whether he was recommending new music to listen to (and it was always so good), regaling us with tales of the bowling alley, offering his beloved truck for a ride if anyone needed it, or sharing his much appreciated opinions about a book jacket or manuscript, he made everyone feel like they were his friend. He was kind, considerate, hilarious... In short, he was an essential part of our team. We send all of our love to Nick's family and friends and hold our treasured memories of him deep in our hearts. Counterpoint mourns the loss of an extraordinary co-worker and a true friend. Rest in peace, dear Nick.
At Urban Montessori Charter School in Oakland, Sara Hoda was known to her pupils as "Miss S."
The 30-year-old Walnut Creek resident — one of at least 36 people killed in fire that engulfed a warehouse party in Oakland late Friday night — was a support teacher at the school, meaning she had traditional California teaching credentials but lacked a Montessori credential.
Parents, students and fellow teachers gathered Monday morning to share memories of Hoda. She was recalled as warm, kind and caring — just the kind of person parents wanted their children to learn from. "She was a sweet and caring teacher, and I am sure all the kids will miss her so much," said Isabel Bustillos, whose daughter attends the school. "(It) will be a bitter day at school without her. We are lighting some candles for her."Melissa Urbano, whose son was in Hoda's class, said the teacher truly cared about each of her students. Urbano called her a "bright light" to children and their families. "I'm so glad that I got the chance to interact with her during her first months at the school," Urbano said. "She was wonderful and really cared about my son. It showed in the way she talked about him during our parent-teacher conference just a couple of weeks ago."
Sara Hoda (right) with Lazzuly Mello.
Outside work, Hoda was a gardener and social activist, former housemate Carol Crewdson recalled. The women had lived together in 2010. "She was a good, hardworking person," said Crewdson, adding that she was one of many nice, nerdy, artistic people at the party Friday night. "She loved children and the earth and she put those principles into actions. She didn't deserve to go like this. After reading an account of what it was like to get out of there, all I can hope is that it happened quickly." Hoda's family declined to comment. Calls to the Urban Montessori Charter School were not immediately returned.
— Lizzie Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Travis Hough, 35, of Benicia, was one of the musical minds behind the Oakland electronic band Ghost of Lightning. The 35-year-old, who had lived in Oakland and Benicia, went by the name Travis Blitzen and helped write and perform the band's heavily synthesized songs. The band's goal was to "create a collective experiencing of music and art in the internal and external worlds," according to its website. Brendan Dreaper, the band's manager, said Hough was perpetually excited and smiling. An artist and glassblower, he had recently launched a podcast focused on how fellow musicians and artists found creativity. "He will be remembered for his positivity and his ability to always make a situation fun," Dreaper said. "Every time he walked in a room, he brightened it up and was always there for a good laugh. He was always optimistic."
In the days after his son's death, Brian Hough shared of a photo of Travis Hough in a Facebook remembrance. It shows Travis as a young man with long hair and a wry smile. The story Brian posted perfectly matches the photo. He remembers taking Travis and a high school bandmate on a trip to Reno. “They strode into the Reno Hilton with guitars on their backs, Doc Martens, and rock star attitudes,” Brian writes. Soon after checking in, Brian says he, “got a call from security that they had been seen ‘smoking’ and were in the basement. I went down and with righteous indignation told these security guys to leave them alone... Rock on you crazy diamonds.” Hough, who died at age 35 in the Oakland warehouse fire, rocked on as a member of Ghost of Lightning, an electro-synth group that regularly played in Oakland. With the thick textures of his analog synthesizer, Hough wrote and performed intricate, goth-pop originals and, in some cases, David Bowie covers. “Brilliant, for one,” says Michelle Campbell, founder of the Oakland-based artist management company, Mixtape Artist Management, describing Hough and the two other artists she also worked with who were lost in the fire. “Extremely, extremely talented. They were experimenting always with the different sounds they were able to create.”
Judy Hough, left, and her husband Brian, center, hold a picture of their son Travis, who died in a warehouse fire, during a vigil at Lake Merritt on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Family members and friends are being notified as firefighters continue a painstaking search for victims of the Oakland warehouse fire.
“Travis believed that healing through music is not only possible, but also necessary, and shared that belief with others in everything that he did,” reads a message about Hough on the Mixtape Artist Management website. One fan wrote on the band’s Facebook page: “I knew your sparkling spirit through your really great music and you bringing together the synth community in your neck of the woods, and bringing therapy in the form of expression.” In addition to his life as a musician, Hough also worked as an expressive arts therapist at the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The school district also lost Sara Hoda, another teacher in its community. Superintendent Matttew Duffy echoes many: “The loss," he says, "is heartbreaking."
Donna Kellogg could brighten a room just by walking into it.
The 32-year old Oakland resident worked for Highwire Coffee Roasters at both the company’s San Pablo Avenue and Flowerland nursery locations in Berkeley and Albany, respectively. Prior to that, she was a longtime employee at Berkeley’s California Theater. Friend and former California Theater coworker John Laux remembers Kellogg as “one of the kindest people.” Laux and Kellogg played music together under the moniker Mouth Juice -- him on bass, her on drums. “It was experimental music, kind of like weird noise jams, but we’d always turn them into something fun,” Laux says. Kellogg’s friend John Benson remembers the California Theater after-hours scene fondly. “Pretty much everyone who worked there would put on midnight shows and use the movie sound system to do experimental sound events,” he says. Benson spent about a month in 2008 traveling and playing music with Kellogg in a bus converted to run on biodiesel -- a project known simply as “John Benson’s Bus.”
“We gutted an Oakland AC transit bus and took it on the road as a mobile venue,” Benson says. “Bands from whatever town we were in would come onboard and play.” Benson says sometimes the bands would play while the bus was on the move, and people would dance holding onto the roof for support.
Oakland Fire: Victim Donna Kellogg's Mother Susan Slocum Speaks Out | PEOPLE.com
The adventurous venue-on-wheels was a welcoming space for Kellogg. “Donna went through a really hard time,” Benson says. “When we went on the bus trip she had just lost a brother, but she remained such a positive person.” Kellogg’s younger brother, Nick Garber, died at age 18. Artist and musician Aurora Crispin met Kellogg in 2006, when they both lived in Oakland. Their friendship was so immediate that they got matching tattoos one of the first times they hung out. “I have three dots on the palm of my hand and she has two,” Crispin says. When the two friends high-fived, their tattoos would complete a five-dot pattern. “Certain people you get a hug from and it’s like you’re dancing with them,” Crispin says. Though the friends were in and out of touch over the years, Crispin says they remained close. “Every time I would see her it would be like no time had passed,” she says. Another friend, Bianca Foss, remembers Kellogg as similarly steadfast. “She was the only person I know who didn't have Facebook or a smartphone and still remembered my birthday,” Foss says. Laux and Crispin both remarked on Kellogg’s recent interest in nutrition studies. “She was going back to school,” Laux says. “She was really turning things around. Getting really serious about nutrition and her life. She was just on such a good path, it just breaks my heart.” For all her friends and the Bay Area community at large, Kellogg’s absence is palpable. “The world’s not going to be the same without her,” Laux says. “When I first heard about the fire,” says Benson, “I went down to the coffee shop because I thought she would be a good person to hang out with and talk to. I had no idea.”
Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward, was known as a kind man and a talented, devoted electronic musician who regularly supported his friends by attending their art and music events in the city. Also known by his stage name, Nex Iuguolo, the 32-year-old was born in Santa Barbara and lived in Nicaragua for two years as a boy, before moving to San Diego, Orcutt (Santa Barbara County), Union City, Pittsburg, Oakland and Hayward. His cousin, Ariel Gonzalez of Berkeley, took to Facebook on Sunday to say, "My heart is so heavy right now for my family and for the ones closest to Nex Iuguolo and for the other victims of the warehouse fire as well as their families. ... Rest In Peace Chase and to all the other victims." Wittenauer performed in the band Symbiotix.Fungi. His friend Bobby Loveless wrote on Facebook Sunday afternoon, "Nex was one of the most creative and talented musicians I ever had the pleasure of working with."
Another friend, Jamaica Rose Chavez-Xochitl, remembered him as always supporting others' art, writing that he was "such a genuine, sweet person." "Every time we (saw each other) it was because he was out showing up at art shows and music events to support his friends, even hometown friends he hadn't seen in years. He relentlessly worked on music all these years and dedicated his life to it in a big way."
The Station Fire
One of the worst fires to happen occured at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode island on Thursday, February 20th 2003. This completely avoidable inferno killed at least 100 people and injured 230 only allowing 132 to escape with no serious injuries. This terrible tragedy was triggered by a pyrotechnics set of three gerbs that emmitted sparks and showers for a duration of 15 seconds. Two gerbs were positioned at a 45 degree angle while a third was positioned directly up at the ceiling. Unfortunately the acoustic sound proofing that had been installed in the stage area was not fire proof and was also dangerously toxic if it became on fire. Lots of people had turned up at the club to see a heavy metal band called Great White, Everyone was excited to see them and there was a lot of heavy metal enthusiasts in the crowd.
Great White is an American Hard Rock band, formed in Los Angeles in 1977. Best known for their Grammy nominated Best Hard Rock Performance hit, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” Great White has sold over 10 million albums worldwide, has six Top 100 Billboard hits, nine Top 200 Billboard albums, two platinum albums and clocked the top of MTV four times. To experience their hits live in concert—“Rock Me,” “Mista Bone,” “Save Your Love,” “House of Broken Love,” and “Lady Red Light”—is to ride an emotional wave of sultry connections, arousing lyrics, and an all-out marathon of hard-hitting orchestrations. Great White continues to tour worldwide and in the last four years logged nearly 400 dates in several states and countries. The band celebrated numerous milestones that included several sold-out performances, a return to the Zurich, Switzerland’s Rock Im Tal Festival, the 10th anniversary of M3 Rock Festival and a handful of intimate, acoustic performances.
Image Above - Great White in 2013 - When Great White came on stage at about 11.06pm slightly behind schedule they immediately began to perform there smash hit Desert Moon, Fans had come in droves to see the band and because of the demand the night club was over capacity. The 4,484 square foot building was mainly constructed of wood and had a maximum capacity of 420 patrons. The gerbs were activated almost immediately to signal the start of the show and a blaze of sparks came out that reached 15 foot in the air. The gerbs on either side positioned at an angle caught the flammable sound proofing materials alight and it was impossible to extinguish the flames because of the voracity that the flames spread. A flashover happened after only one minute from the time the sound proofing caught fire, this caused all combustible materials inside the club to burn producing a thick choking black smoke. This smoke engulfed the club within 5½ minutes creating a mass panic and crush at the main exit, Because the smoke and flames were so quick to produce people were taken by surprise as many initially considered the flames part of the show and did not panic or attempt to leave the building.
Those who did leave immediately were the ones that survived but many passed out from the thick toxic smoke or were trampled by the escaping crowd. As the flames began to catch fire the lead singer of Great White commented on his microphone "Wow That's not good" as he quickly made his escape out of a side door that was for the band only. A bouncer was manning the door and refused many people a way out because of the rules he was instructed to follow. This terrible mistake cost many lives as they were forced to go back into the main room of the club but could not get out because the main entrance was blocked by people who were pushing and shoving in a panic to get out. The smoke was hot and black, people were on fire and time was critical, There were four other exits; however, sociological phenomenon shows that in times of panic, when people need to leave a place quickly, they instinctively go for the door they entered. With this mentality, 2/3 of the crowd surged forward.
Within 90 seconds, the crowd experienced a "crowd crush," an incident in which people push through a single door and ultimately block entry and exit. It should also be noted that a test showed that in the Station Nightclub environment, at the 90 second mark, the air condition and heat would have been to the point to cause death. The concert-goers felt the panic of impending death and rushed to the exit. Ninety-six people burned to death in the nightclub that evening, four others died the following day. Two hundred people were injured. A triage center was set up at a restaurant across the street. All of the two hundred people were treated there and then sent to one of fifteen nearby medical centers.
Enforcement of the "band door" rule would be the province of the club's bouncers, some of whom were experienced and responsible. Others, however were no more than under trained and overbuilt club "Regulars" who, as often as not, performed their function for free beer and a chance to wear black Event Security T-Shirts and exercise authority over patrons. Apparently, "Security" had a better ring to it that "Barfly", For this subgroup, training was necessarily kept simple. One rule sufficed: no one but "BAND" was allowed to use the stage door. When Mike Lannone saw the pyrotechnics catch fire to the sound proofing he new he was in trouble, without thinking he immediately ran for the stage door to get himself to safety. As he reached the door , a large bouncer grabbed his arm and barked, "Band only exit" The bouncer then forcefully pushed Iannone back into the panicking crowd which caused him to stumble and nearly fall over allowing himself to be trampled.
In this Feb. 20, 2003 file photo, firefighters spray water on to the charred remains of the nightclub, The Station located in West Warwick, R.I.,
Yellow-coated state fire investigators and federal agents wearing “ATF” jackets combed the scene, while a department chaplain divided his time between consoling first responders and praying over each body as it was removed. Only snippets of conversation among the firefighters could be overheard, but one — “bodies stacked like cordwood” — would become the tragedy’s reporting cliché.
Firefighters remove a body covered in a white sheet from the smoldering rubble of a deadly fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. Friday, Feb. 21, 2003.
Firefighters carry the body of a fire victim from the charred wreckage of The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., Friday, Feb. 21, 2003.
Robin Petrarca of Warwick, R.I., right, is embraced by her friend Jessica Studley of West Greenwich, R.I., at the scene of a fatal nightclub fire, Friday, Feb. 21, 2003, in West Warwick, R.I. Both Petrarca and Studley, who lost friends in the blaze, were inside the club when fire broke out.
Firefighters continue to work at the smoldering scene of a deadly fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. Friday, Feb. 21, 2003. As soon as Iannone regained his composure and his feet Mike decided to head on over to the main exit and follow the bouncers commands. But now many hundreds of people are all doing the same action and he could go no further than the front corridor, wedged between the inner single door and the outside double doors people were pushing from behind and toppling over onto him trapping him tightly in place. Iannone was helpless and could not move from that position and location until the firemen extricated him, The heat had done it's damage and had burnt one of his hands with the intensity of a blowtorch beyond hope of salvage.
Image Left - Jack Russell, lead singer of Great White, has an emotional moment as he walks near the scene of a deadly fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. Friday, Feb. 21, 2003. Fred Crisostomi, a painter and his girlfriend, Gina Russo a medical secretary had called the Station club at 10:20 that fateful night to inquire if there were any tickets left. The response was "Sure" just come on down, A short 10 minutes later and the couple had arrived at the bustling club, Andrea Mancini who was working on the entrance took there cash and stamped there hands they were in happy that they would be seeing Great White live. Fred and Gina went on over to the bar and bought a couple of drinks and then slowly worked there way over to the apron of the stage just in time for the pyrotechnics display. The couple were relatively sober and notived taht the fire and the pyrotecnics just don't go together,
Fire survivor Jesse Botelho, 30, of Pawtucket, R.I. speaks to reporters near the remains of The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., Friday, Feb. 21, 2003 - Both immediately put there drinks down on the stage area and made there way to there right which was the direction of the band only exit, Fred was familiar with the clubs layout and quickly guided Gina to the stage door that was manned by a bouncer. The bouncer was menacing and stood infront of them with his arms folded blocking the couples exit outside. The bouncer declared, this exit is for band members only, The couple shouted and screamed with fear and with a serious tone of voice they said "The club is on fire! Let us out! Open the door!. The bouncer was having none of it and held his ground refusing the couple a safe exit outside.
A firefighter holds his hand to his forehead as he stands amidst the rubble at the scene of a deadly fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. Friday, Feb. 21, 2003. Gina new that they could not stand there arguing with him and decided to head back to the entrance they had been through just 30 minutes ago. Fred was pushing and shoving his girlfriend through the crowd as loud screams pierced the air, breaking glass was everywhere and popping flames filled her ears. A black rain of melted plastics and other materials dripped from the ceiling scorching and burning peoples hair face and body in a relentlessness cascade, Gina's sweat shirt, jeans and Nike sneakers offered little protection from the intense blow torch heat , She felt Fred's hand on her back shoving her towards the door as he yelled "Just Go". Gina toppled as soon as her progress stalled as she fell she avoided landing on anyone else. Gina said a prayer for her two boys and passed out from the searing smoke. Eleven weeks later Gina emerged from a medically induced coma in a Boston hospital, Gina would learn that Fred Crisostomi had perished in the club, Gina herself sustained horrific burns to her head, torso, limbs, and lungs.
Great White lead singer Jack Russell, left, speaks with bass player Dave Filice, right, near the scene of a deadly fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. Friday, Feb. 21, 2003. The Station's approach to providing concert security was "as and when needed" and with little notice, On the day of the inferno club manager Kevin Beese contacted his buddy Scott Viera to see if he could help out that night as a bouncer because of the Great White performance and fully sold out venue. Viera had worked there before a couple of odd times as a bouncer and for a couple of beers a free show and a chance to escape the solitude of his apartment he agreed. In 1994 Vieira had injured his ankle while at a place of work being a Generals Motors plant and this injury had kept him on disability payments. On the afternoon precurser to the deadly blaze club manager Scott Viera helped the band Great White unload there sound equipment from the parking lot and into the club, The parking lot was frozen and there were large patches of snow dotted around the clubs perimeter. He went home for dinner and returned at 7 o'clock wearing a black T-shirt that read in large white letters THESTATION across his chest and EVENT SECURITY printed on the back.
Steven Ayer, 55, of West Warwick, R.I., displays photographs of his daughter Tina, 33, near the site of The Station nightclub, in West Warwick, Friday, Feb. 21, 2003. At around 8.30 pm Viera took up position at the right hand corner of the stage so that he could see his friends in Fathead a band that was opening before Great White showed up, By 10:30 he was standing close to the band room and stage door with his wife Kelly, As Viera explained that night he said his main goal was to watch forward and make sure nobody came into that area that did not belong, From prior experience, he could recite the Band Door Rules: Just make sure no one came through the door that did not belong there, or a non'band member. Just so someone wouldn't open it, mainly while music was going on... Stop sound from going out of an open door and to stop anyone from sneaking in who might try and get a free viewing.
West Warwick, R.I. police officer Mark Bennett reacts as he leans on a fence containing flowers enclosing the charred wreckage of The Station nightclub Monday, Feb. 24, 2003. Hundreds of mourners have left flowers, stuffed bears and pictures on the fence to remember those who died in the fire there last week. Viera's statement was that when the fire broke out he went into the band room to get water and emerged with several bottles, He quickly realised that this effort would have no effect on the out of control fire and he quickly dropped the bottles to the floor. Great White at this point had left the stage and exited through the band door, Viera quickly moves onto the dance floor and atrium areas yelling for patrons to "Come this way" through the band door. His wife Kelly was unfortunately not among them, Viera also denies having directed anyone away from the stage door at any time that night.
A group of people share embraces while standing in front of the wreckage of The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2003 where at least 96 concertgoers died in a fire Thursday night.
An acoustic guitar, in memory of the 98 fire victims, is left at the memorial fence enclosing the wreckage of The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., Tuesday, March 4, 2003. Stephanie and Nicole Conant from Medford, Massachusetts, had been to The Station three or four times and seen Great White a dozen times before. The sisters socialized with the band inside the club between 4 and 5 pm on the afternoon of their Station appearance and, when questioned by club employees, assured them that they were "With the Band"
When the sound proofing insulation caught on fire Nicole and Stephanie were standing down front near the band room and stage door. Familiar with the door from the load in earlier the Conants headed for it, The gentlemen that leaned on the side of the stage, who worked for the Station, saw it burning and did not seem to bothered at that moment as he continued to lean and watch the orange flames lick up the surfaces, Suddenly the employee ran to the back door and swung it open allowing the two women to escape to the safety of outside, a few band members followed behind also eager to escape with there lives.
Rescue workers, firefighters and police officers pull bodies from the burned-out remains of The Station, a nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. February 21st, 2003
Susan Watts/NY Daily News Archive/Getty - Another individual with an unfettered access to the stage door was a man called John Arpin. Arpin was a club bouncer with a long standing reputation and time served individual, He occasionally helped out the club kitchen cooking Chicken nuggets, jalapeno poppers and other frying foods. Arpin stood near Scott Viera and wore a similar black T-shirt at the apron of the stage, this area was close to the stage door and Great White had just started there set, Th e pyrotechnics began to sparkle and fizz quickly ignited the flammable foam materials. Arpin explains that he immediately left the area he was stood in and plowing through the crowds to the far opposite end of the club to retrieve a fire extinguisher from the kitchen area. As he returned he managed to get to the light and sound board but it was clear to him that the extinguisher would not be effective, He quickly returned to the kitchen area and exited through a back door located in the kitchen, Many more lives would of been saves if they knew about the kitchen access door, But Arpin denies he or any other bouncer working that night refused patrons safe exit out of the stage door but others disagree.
Firefighters in search of victims at the entrance to the Station nightclub in West Warwick, The Cormier family consisting of Donna, her husband Bruce, stepson Tim, and stepdaughter Brenda. They had driven down from Foxboro, Massachusetts and all were excited about the concert. Donna was especially excited after hearing Jack Russell interviewed by Dr.Metal on 94HJY promising a "Monster show" with pyrotechnics. Some time passed and the family were building themselves up for an amazing experience, they had decided to accumulate near the stage to the right over by the band exit. Donna watched with delight as Jack Russell began stretching, hopping up and down, and deep breathing in the shadows as he prepared to perform, pumping himself up for a triumphant return to the West Warwick Stage.
A popular radio deejay Mike Gonsalves died in the inferno.
When the illegal pyrotechnics began to erupt to Donna it was the start of the show, but as soon as she could see nickel sized balls of flame appear on the foam walls behind the sparks her mind changed. Donna quickly shouted to Bruce her husband with concern "the wall is on fire" Donna insisted that something was not right, Bruce responded with confidence "Oh there put that right he replies over the loud din of guitars drums and vocals, Donna repeated her concerns, No No she said the wall is on Fire" Donna had never experienced anything so quick the fire was spreading rapidly, Jack Russel began to splash his water bottle at the flames in a futile effort to put the flames out, Donna concluded that it was the most ridiculous thing she has seen in the mist of the mayhem.
Bruce's mind was made up and grabbed his son's Tim by his collar literally lifting him off his feet, Donna turned to her stepdaughter Brenda and said "We're out of here" as she pointed towards the nearby stage door. As the family neared the door a black T-shirt wearing bouncer with a shaved head raised his left hand and said with authority, "You have to use the other exit" Donna's husband became angry with the bouncer and shouted loudly "You Fucking Idiot" The place is on Fire" With out any further discussion Bruce forcibly pushed his family into the bouncer and out the door saving them from certain death. Once outside Tim without thinking it through shouts out "My Leather Jacket" Donna screams I have your jacket thus preventing Tim's rescue effort which would most certainly have killed him. Band members Mark Kendall and David Filice stood outside the stage door with the Cormiers, having exited only moments before. Their Guitars were still strapped on, and both gazed in disbelief as flames engulfed the club. Tim Cormier patted Kendall on the shoulder and remarked, Nice Show, Man" But no one laughed or found it anywhere amusing just disbelief,
Ceremony honoring victims & survivors of the Station nightclub fire 15 years ago today, 2/20/03. 100 people lost their lives. The club did not have a sprinkler system. The pyrotechnics were set off by tour manager Daniel Biechele which started the deadly blaze, Biechele used three gerbs set to spray 15 feet (4.6m) for 15 seconds to add effect and excitement to Great Whites opening track Desert Moon- The acoustic foam was installed in two layers, with highly flammable urethane foam above polyethylene foam, the latter being difficult to ignite but releasing much more heat once ignited by the less dense urethane. Burning polyurethane foam instantly develops opaque, dark smoke along with deadly carbon Monoxide and hydrogen cyanide gas. Inhaling this smoke only 2-3 times would cause rapid loss of consciousness and, eventually, death by internal suffocation. About 60 seconds into the pyrotechnics display the fire alarm for the club began to sound out, This immediately made the patrons realize that they had leave the club immediately,
Image Right - A man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter for lighting pyrotechnics in a nightclub that sparked a fatal fire can work as a bookkeeper while serving his prison sentence, a judge ruled.
Image Left - Dan Biechele, former tour manager for the band Great White, whose pyrotechnics display caused a 2003 nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed 100 people, was let out of prison March Wednesday 2008.
MOVING ON, NOT FORGETTING, Rob Feeney, who survived the fire at The Station nighclub, at the site of the former club in West Warwick, Rhode Island. (Photo by Jon Chomitz) A Rhode Island TV station and a cameraman accused of getting in the way of people fleeing the nightclub fire that killed 100 people have reached a tentative $30 million settlement with survivors and victims’ relatives, station officials said.
Brian Butler a camerman for WPRI-TV was at the West Warwick nightclub gathering footage for a segment on safety in public places. His video formed the most complete record of the early moments of the fire, revealing the rapid spread of flames and the frantic rush for the exits. Incredibly lawyers for the victims that perished accused Butler of impeding the crowd's exit through the front door, many bodies were found at this exit point who were trapped from the huge stampede and crushing. Butler and his lawyer Chip Babcock, have denied the claim. “We did then, and still do, vehemently deny this allegation which is disproved by the video itself,”
Image Above - Jeff Dederian, right, co-owner of The Station nightclub. WPRI general manager Jay Howell said in a statement confirming the settlement. Babcock, who has previously said Butler “saved lives that night,” did not immediately return calls seeking comment. (The video shows Butler leaving the club almost immediately and was one of the lucky ones to have survived) In an affidavit submitted last year, Butler said he left the club as soon as he noticed the flames and did not stop to videotape the patrons. The settlement, which also involves the station’s parent company, LIN TV Corp., was first reported by The Boston Globe. As part of the settlement, the defendants are not admitting any responsibility, said a lawyer involved in the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
Jessica Garvey, of Woonsocket, R.I. steadies a cross at the site of The Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I, Wednesday. Chris Fontaine, whose son died in the fire and whose daughter was injured, said the news brought her little comfort. “This has never been about the money,” Fontaine said. “No amount of money is ever going to bring back my son or remove the scars from my daughter.” About 300 survivors and victims’ relatives sued after the fire. Last year, lawyers reached settlements totaling $18.5 million with some of the defendants. There are still dozens of defendants in the case, including Anheuser-Busch, Clear Channel Broadcasting, several foam manufacturers, the state of Rhode Island and members of Great White. Club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian were also sued but have received bankruptcy protection. The criminal case was resolved in 2006 through plea deals with the three men charged.
This is Butlers testimony that night, It was that fast. As soon as the pyrotechnics stopped, the flame had started on the egg-crate backing behind the stage, and it just went up the ceiling. And people stood and watched it, and some people backed off. When I turned around, some people were already trying to leave, and others were just sitting there going, 'Yeah, that's great!' And I remember that statement, because I was, like, this is not great. This is the time to leave. At first, there was no panic. Everybody just kind of turned. Most people still just stood there. In the other rooms, the smoke hadn't gotten to them, the flame wasn't that bad, they didn't think anything of it. Well, I guess once we all started to turn toward the door, and we got bottle-necked into the front door, people just kept pushing, and eventually everyone popped out of the door, including myself.
That's when I turned back. I went around back. There was no one coming out the back door anymore. I kicked out a side window to try to get people out of there. One guy did crawl out. I went back around the front again, and that's when you saw people stacked on top of each other, trying to get out of the front door. And by then, the black smoke was pouring out over their heads.
I noticed when the pyro stopped, the flame had kept going on both sides. And then on one side, I noticed it come over the top, and that's when I said, 'I have to leave.' And I turned around, I said, 'Get out, get out, get to the door, get to the door!' And people just stood there.
There was a table in the way at the door, and I pulled that out just to get it out of the way so people could get out easier. And I never expected it to take off as fast as it did. It just—it was so fast. It had to be two minutes tops before the whole place was black smoke.
Thousands of mourners attended a memorial service at St. Gregory the Great Church in Warwick on February 24, 2003, to remember those lost in the fire. Following the tragedy, Governor Donald Carcieri declared a moratorium on pyrotechnic displays at venues that hold fewer than 300 people. Five months after the fire, Great White started a benefit tour, saying a prayer at the beginning of each concert for the friends and families affected by the incident and giving a portion of the proceeds to the Station Family Fund. In 2003, and again in 2005, the band stated they had not performed the song Desert Moon since the tragedy. "I don't think I could ever sing that song again," said lead vocalist and founder Jack Russell, while guitarist Mark Kendall stated "We haven't played that song. Things that bring back memories of that night we try to stay away from. And that song reminds us of that night. We haven't played it since then and probably never will." By 2009, however, the band had resumed performing the song.
Two years to the day after the fire, band members Jack Russell and Mark Kendall, along with Great White's attorney, Ed McPherson, appeared on Larry King Live with three survivors of the fire and the father of Ty Longley, to discuss how their lives had changed since the incident.Following the fire, Great White split into two separate groups, one led by Russell and the other by Kendall. Neither version of the band performed in any of the six New England states for over a decade. Russell's group made its first New England appearance in 12 years at a harvest festival in Mechanic Falls, Maine in August 2015.
Dedication - Granite Memorial Monument & Benches - Station Fire Memorial Park Warwick - The site of the fire was cleared, and a multitude of crosses were placed as memorials, left by loved ones of the deceased. On May 20, 2003, nondenominational services began to be held at the site of the fire for a number of months. Access remains open to the public, and memorial services are held each February 20. In June 2003, the Station Fire Memorial Foundation (SFMF) was formed with the purpose of purchasing the property, to build and maintain a memorial. In September 2012, the owner of the land, Ray Villanova, donated the site to the SFMF. By April 2016, $1.65 million of the $2 million fundraising goal had been achieved and construction of the Station Fire Memorial Park had commenced. The memorial dedication ceremony took place on May 21, 2017.
Hundreds gather at the site of the new Station Fire Memorial Park in West Warwick to remember and pay tribute to those lost to the tragedy 14 years ago. Students from John F. Deering Middle School hold flowers in memory of each life lost to the fire.
Father Robert Marciano, longtime chaplain of the Warwick Fire Department, delivered a tribute to the first responders from across the area.
PHOTO: RICK SNIZEK
Brianna Manzo places a flower at the memorial to her mother Judith.
PHOTO: RICK SNIZEK
Many More incredible stories of survival include Raul "Mike" Vargas who survived over 90 minutes inside the Station Club, How did he do this, Vargas in his eagerness to vacate the burning and smoking inferno fell and was buried alive under a 5ft pile of bodies, These bodies helped to insulate him from the flames and heat and he ended up walking out of the building with only a few burns on his legs. People on top of him either were dead or severly burned, Vargas is astounded at his luck and never thought he would survive such a terrible fire, Vargas, who was born and raised in Toms River, N.J., lives in Johnston with his wife,
Melanie A. Vargas, 32, a dental hygienist, and son Bryan M. Vargas, 10. Vargas
manages the General Nutrition Center in Johnston. Vargas went to The Station alone the night of the fire to see his seventh Great White concert. He wasn't drinking. Vargas said he doesn't drink or smoke and has never taken drugs. Athletic and health-conscious, his lean face and muscular body attest to his lifestyle. Vargas bumped into a few friends at the club, including Andrea and Steven Mancini, who were working at the club, and Dave McGinn.
As the night progressed, the small club became crowded.
When Great White started playing around 11 p.m., Vargas was standing a few feet in
front of guitarist Ty Longley. The lead singer, Jack Russell, waited in the wings for a
dramatic entrance. The crowd was going nuts, Vargas said.
Russell came on stage and, just before he began to sing, sparks flew from a
pyrotechnics machine behind him. "As soon as I saw the flames, I knew it wasn't part of the show, but I wasn't worried," Vargas said. "I thought they'd put it out and they'd go on with the show." But Vargas said no one emerged with a fire extinguisher and he didn't see anybody pull a fire alarm. "I realized they were going to let it burn," he said. "I didn't think anything bad. I was just like 'I've got to get out of here.' "
Image Left (Tyrone Pierre Longley (September 4, 1971 – February 20, 2003) was an American guitarist and vocalist. He was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Brookfield High School in Brookfield, Ohio. Longley joined Great White in 2000 but sadly died in the Station blaze being the only band member to perish. He left behind Heidi (Peralta) Longley, who was 3 months pregnant with the couples first child. His son Acey is also a musician and runs a charity for hospitalized children in his father's memory.
He turned and began moving toward the main door, but some patrons were standing
still, eyes fixed on the stage.
"I just picked people up as I went so I wouldn't trip over them," he said.
Embers from the fire started to burn through his Lycra ski cap. He brushed off the hat
and kept moving. As the mass followed the most direct route to the doors, Vargas detoured around a freestanding wall, and rejoined the river of people on the other side. The force of the crowd behind him was growing. He almost made it to the exit.
Vargas said he tried to stay upright by putting his hands on the person in front of him,
but the pressure from behind overwhelmed him. He fell to the floor, two feet from the
door. He rolled over to his side and curled up into the fetal position. Instinct told him staying on his side would protect his spine and airway. "People were piling up on top of me and I could feel the press of people," he said. He forced himself to stay calm.
"If you freak out, I'm going to die," he told himself.
He could breathe in cool, fresh air. He wasn't even hot. But he couldn't move.
"It felt like a football pileup," he said.
Vargas said he wasn't concerned about dying, though images went through his head of
someone telling his wife and son that he died. He prayed to his father, who was killed in
a construction accident in 1994. "I wanted to stay calm. I didn't want to move because I didn't want the pile to topple on me," he said. "I had air and I didn't feel any heat. I wasn't crushed or feeling crushed. I was in a relaxed state. I just felt calm and focused."
Vargas didn't let his mind race either. "I wasn't saying 'When are they going to get here to get me?' I broke it into steps," he said. First he waited for the sound of sirens. He heard them and knew he was one step closer to rescue. He heard the firefighters talking, then he felt the water from the fire hoses.
But a comment Vargas overheard from one firefighter nearly unglued him.
" 'Oh my God. They are all dead,' " he heard. "That got to me."
Until then, Vargas did not comprehend the devastation.
"I knew it was bad because we were stuck there, but I didn't know how bad," he said.
The calls for help from people around him had faded. Vargas himself remained silent.
"It didn't make sense for me to scream. What were the chances they would hear me
screaming from underneath the pile? Plus I had to conserve as much energy as
possible," he said. Finally, he felt the load above him lighten as firefighters searched for survivors.
He saw a firefighter's boot and reached for it. The firefighter gripped him and wouldn't
let go, Vargas said. It took a couple of tugs and Vargas was freed.
"A few people were still alive. They were screaming," he said. "All around me people
Vargas stood up and walked out. "My plan at that point was just to go home," he said. "I knew if I looked back I would be really messed up. When you're up high, don't look down. Same thing. I thought 'Don't
look back.' " Halfway across the parking lot, rescue workers steered him onto a gurney and took him
to an ambulance. An emergency worker took his vital signs and asked for the time for the medical record. Vargas remembers it as 12:35 a.m. -- about an hour and a half after the fire broke out. According to Miriam Hospital officials, Vargas was first evaluated in the emergency room at 12:50 a.m. Vargas suffered four third-degree burns on his left leg, the largest about the size of a potato. He is still coughing up soot from the smoke he inhaled and sleeping is difficult. He said he sees visions of the dead and burned. A few days after the fire, he returned to The Station. Vargas said everything was charred black except the patch of red tiles he had been lying on.
A patron was not so lucky in escaping the flames, When fire fighters pulled the dead man out of the Station nightclub they found that he had drowned from the fire fighters water hoses which had been dripping down into an area that he was pinned down too, A video reveals a stream of water from hoses presumably pinched under car tires as firemen desperately tried to water the Danté-esque pile of people in the front door, which extended 20 feet back in a mass. They succeeded; tragically one at the bottom drowned, according to a WW cop.
Image Above - Although Great White was not his number one band, Samuel J. Miceli Jr., of Lisbon, Conn., couldn't refuse the free tickets offered by a local radio station. He and his longtime girlfriend, Jude Henault, also of Lisbon, went together to the concert. Both died in the fire.
Miceli's co-worker Suzy Police picked up his tickets from the radio station on her way to meet him for lunch recently. She had known Miceli for a few years and said he was "very devoted to his family, his girlfriend, and her kids."
"He would do anything for anybody he knew," she said. "Whenever he was working close by, he always made sure to call and ask if I needed anything for lunch."
When the 37-year-old Miceli wasn't busy working in the home improvement section of Tri-State Window Distributors Inc. in Montville, Conn., he loved being outdoors, spending time with his family, listening to music, and attending live concerts -- always with a smile on his face, said Police. "He went more for the music than he did for the night life."
Police said she went to a Dave Matthews Band concert with Miceli and Henault once, and remembers him urging the three to move forward into better seats.
Raymond Kane, co-owner of the Lincoln Inn in Norwich, Conn., said he and Miceli called themselves the "eagle brothers" after going together to get eagle tattoos when they were 18.
"He was a happy-go-lucky guy," Kane said.
An avid sports fan, Alfred Carmino Crisostomi sprinkled his home with New York Yankees memorabilia: blankets, plates, and pictures. "He lived for sports," said Nancy DePasquale of her brother, who was also a huge New York Jets fan.
According to his wishes, Crisostomi, 38, will be buried with a blanket bearing the Yankees logo draped over his casket. Floral arrangements designed to resemble a baseball, with the Yankees emblem, and a football, with the Jets logo, will flank the bier.
DePasquale, who said she was wearing one of her brother's jerseys yesterday, that of Yankees slugger Jason Giambi, said he would not have had it any other way.
Crisostomi, who played baseball at Central High School in Providence, continued his love affair with sports long after his playing days had ended.
His other love was rock music. "He died doing something he loved," said DePasquale, who said her brother had been to The Station nightclub "millions of times," attending concerts there at least once a week.
"That's why he went [to the concert] because he was a fan of all rock 'n' roll," said DePasquale, who said Crisostomi took her son and his godson, Cory, to Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest last July. "He lived for rock 'n' roll."
Crisostomi attended the Great White concert with his girlfriend, Gina Russo, who is in critical condition at the Boston Shriners Hospital. The couple had met eight months earlier and Crisostomi immediately fell in love with Russo, the first woman he had met who shared his love of sports.
DePasquale said, "He had finally found love and this had to happen."
Getting out didn’t mean going back to normal. Some of the survivors of the Station fire will never work again, breathe properly, feed themselves or tan on a beach. Widowed, they raise children on disability checks that don’t reach poverty level, and they contemplate bankruptcy. Skin grafts make them itch, like junkies attacking their scabs –— if their fingers work at all. Then there are the nightmares, over and over again, of marching flame and smoke. People stare at them in public, at the bandannas that cover their hairless heads, at their red, claw-like hands, their lack of certain facial features, their melted ears. They’re depressed, guilt-ridden and angry, and to most Americans outside the small, insular state of Rhode Island, they’re invisible, forgotten casualties of a forgotten brand of rock & roll. They are a collection of blue-collar music fans – contractors, Wal-Mart workers, strippers, struggling musicians – who made the mistake of turning up on February 20th, 2003, to see a washed-up boogie band, Great White, ignite outsized pyrotechnics, talismans of a long-gone glory, on a tiny stage ringed by cheap, flammable foam.
Half of the fire victims who were hospitalized had no health insurance, according to the state’s Department of Human Services. Medical costs continue to mount, much of which will be paid from the nearly empty pockets of Rhode Island taxpayers, via Medicaid, and the budgets of a handful of local hospitals, which have been losing millions of dollars for years. At least 60 children lost one or more parent in the blaze; 23 people lost a spouse. From the Bush administration, which has a pattern of ignoring the needs of states that vote Democratic, has come almost no direct aid at all – just a few hundred thousand dollars for non-medical expenses.
Donovan Williams, 33, of Westerly, fights his own multiple battles. A hard-rock fanatic and father of three young children, he’d been going to the Station and its prior incarnations for a decade. The night of the fire, EMTs choppered him from a Rhode Island hospital to Massachusetts General, in Boston. He’d suffered severe burns to the top and back of his head, his back, buttocks, legs, arms, shoulders and hands – more than 60 percent of his body. Doctors gave Williams a 30 percent chance of survival. Like Gina Russo, he lay in a medicated coma until almost Easter, fighting the odds. He lost 45 pounds, suffered multiple infections, a dangerous blood clot and kidney failure, a common occurrence in burn patients. “And because of the swelling,” Williams says, “they had to slice my stomach open and tape my intestines on the outside of my body for five days so the organs could function.”
WHERE IT ALL STARTED: Lori St. Jean, who founded the Station Fire Memorial Foundation with Susan Asslen in June 2003 , observes the features of the new park.
(WARWICK BEACON PHOTOS BY JOHN HOWELL) - Williams awoke, in April, to hallucinations. A nurse was putting him to bed in his backyard, he was sure, on an air mattress. He was hanging out with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler or floating in the air with one of his sons or walking through the parking lot of a liquor store. Doctors prescribed anti-psychotic medications, but the head games seemed to go on for weeks. Williams asked his nurses to pull the plug, even though he wasn’t hooked up to any sort of plug that could be pulled. A far more severe and heartbreaking complication, considering how Williams cheated death, had also presented itself. Although he’d walked out of the Station under his own power to an ambulance, optical- nerve damage had left Williams blind. His children visited him in the hospital once or twice a week.
REMEMBERING MIKE: Dana Christman (left) consoles her granddaughters Maria and Emily Fresolo and grandniece Toni. Mike Fresolo died in the fire when Maria was a toddler. Christman said it was three weeks after the fire before Fresolo’s death was confirmed.
(WARWICK BEACON PHOTOS BY JOHN HOWELL) - His ex-wife told him stories of how his oldest son, Zach, 9, was playing sports. “That tore me up,” says Williams. “Every father wants to play catch with his kid and coach his Little League team. I asked her to take video, in case any of my vision came back.” Miraculously, a bit of it did. While Williams still can’t see at all through his right eye, he’s regained about 30 percent of his vision in his left; it’s as if he’s looking at the world through a cheap pair of sunglasses. He can get around his sister’s house in Westerly, where he now lives with her husband and their three grown daughters, but he can’t read or drive. “If I watch a football game, I can tell if there’s a deep pass,” he says, “but I can’t tell if a field goal is good or not.” Williams didn’t leave rehab until just before Labor Day, seven months after the Station fire, and still undergoes physical therapy three days a week. His right hand has the grip strength of a 70-year-old man’s. His left thumb, which he lost the tip of, won’t bend at all. Unable to work, he stays inside most days, listening to music in a downstairs bedroom, intensely bored, like Gina Russo.
THERE’S A HERO”: Hope Valley native and recent The Voice contestant Billy Gilman made a surprise appearance to perform his song “There’s a Hero.” (Photo by Tessa Roy)