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Talk with Victim of Nightclub Fire in Rhode Island

Aired February 21, 2003 - 07:40   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us on the telephone right now is Lisa Shea, another woman who happened to be inside The Station -- that's the name of the nightclub -- last night when this fire erupted.
Lisa, good morning.


ZAHN: I know this is going to be really difficult for you, but just describe to us what happened last night.

SHEA: Well, the first song came on. It was like fireworks, and the whole stage caught on fire. And I thought it was part of the act; my girlfriend, too. I said to her, 'Don't worry about it, they'll put it out.' I thought they would come with fire extinguishers. But the -- it went on flames, and people started running towards the one exit, where there were exits there, but even I'd gone there many a times, you just want to get out.

And people were pushing. I got knocked out of the way towards another room. It was where they had a box, the lights went off, and the whole place got tons of black smoke, you know, breathing black smoke. I got knocked on the ground, and people were trampling on my back, on my head. And I was holding my head (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I said I'm going to die here. All I could think about is my mother. I said, I've got to get up. I couldn't get up. You're going to have to get up.

So, I got up. I was -- my knee, my arm, people were hurt really bad, and you can't see in front of you. All you see is black smoke, and you can feel bodies on the floor, and you're walking. And I heard someone say, "Come here." And I see the window, and I jumped out the window.

And luckily, I got to see my girlfriend. She's got two twin girls and a little boy. I said, 'Thank God you're all right!' I said, 'Those kids are home.' And people were walking around, people were putting snow on their arms, and they were burnt really bad. It was the worst thing that I've ever seen.

And then we went across the street just so she could get her hand looked at, and the restaurant across the street, it was like a morgue. There were people burnt so bad and injured and dead. It was terrible.

ZAHN: I am...

SHEA: It was really bad. ZAHN: I am so sorry, and when we look at these pictures, it just seems a miracle that any of you were able to get out of there.

Lisa, when we hear the struggle you had getting out of there, I'm curious...

SHEA: I thought I was going to die. I really did. I was on the ground (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I'm going to end up dead here, and I talked, I couldn't say nothing. And then I said, 'Can you stop stepping on me?' People were just getting trampled. You couldn't see at all.

And then I got up. I said, Oh, my mother. I've got to get up. I have no kids, I'm not married, but all I could think about was my mother. I was like, I've got to get up. And I ran out the window. And I'm not cut, not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people. But I mean, like I'm still bruised up and shook up, and most of all shook up, too.

ZAHN: Lisa, please help us understand, because you had been there before. The fire chief explaining that people that were found dead were found at the front exits, the rear exits and along the dance floor. But you're making it sound like there were an awful lot converged on what door. What door was that you think where most of the people were trying to exit from?

SHEA: Everybody panicked and everybody went towards the front door. And there were people that go there all of the time, too. Everybody wanted to get out the front door, so everybody went towards the right. The fire, the fire was growing so bad. And everybody just went to the right of the club.

ZAHN: And you had to jump out of the window because there were just so many people converging in that one door?

SHEA: There were so many people -- exactly. Converging to that one door that you actually got -- the people turned your whole body. They turned -- like they turned my body like you couldn't move. You couldn't get over to that door. So, I ended up in the room on the side, and I was -- and I fell on my stomach, and everything -- smoke, black smoke. You couldn't see in front of you.

And from where I was, when the lights were still on, I said, well, I can make it over there, no problem. And there was no way. I was on the ground. I got up. I said, I've got to get up. So, I said -- I thought of my mother, and I said, I've got to get up. And I went out that way until I found someone, and I heard voices. They said, "Come out this way." It was a male voice, and I went out the window.

ZAHN: Lisa, were you treated for anything like smoke inhalation or anything else?

SHEA: I'm going to go this morning. When I got home, I was so nervous. I'm not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just my back hurts, like I got trampled. And my back and my hand cut up.

And everybody -- tons of people that go there every weekend. It was a beautiful club. There are not too many clubs had the 1980's bands, and it was going to be a nice night. I looked forward to going there. And it's tragic.

ZAHN: We've just met a woman named Laurie Hussey (ph), who was also at the concert last night that is in the hospital being treated for first, second and third-degree burns.

SHEA: Oh, god!

ZAHN: And she made it sound like some of the people who are in hospitals today were burned actually after they got out of the building from falling debris. Were you burned at all?

SHEA: No, I wasn't burned. I thank God I wasn't burned, because I was on that (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I thank God somebody was with me. I didn't get burned. Just bruised, and thank God that -- and just a scratchy throat, like I inhaled all of that stuff in my throat.

ZAHN: You...

SHEA: I was breathing through my nose and inhaling through my mouth. It was like once I hit the ground, I didn't think I was going to get back up. And somebody was with me.

ZAHN: Lisa, let me...

SHEA: And I got up...

ZAHN: ... ask you about this, having been to the club before, the fire chief confirming the club had had a number of minor violations in the past; for example, not having lights at exit doors that were working. They fixed all of that. Were you ever aware of any other safety problems at this club?

SHEA: No, no.

ZAHN: And what do you think when you learned from the fire chief this morning that no pyrotechnics license had been applied for, and it had been required in order to use what you saw last night on stage? Does it just make you angry?

SHEA: Well, it makes me angry that there are poor people that are dead in there that they didn't make it.

ZAHN: Well...

SHEA: And I'm sorry about that, and it's a very bad thing.

ZAHN: I don't know, have you seen any of the pictures from last night? Obviously, you were there. But...

SHEA: I was walking around. I seen the people outside were bad, really bad. The people had snow on their arms. I seen somebody laying on his stomach with snow on their back. That's how bad. It was snow from outside they were using.

ZAHN: Well, Lisa, we really appreciate your talking to us this morning, and I know you want to get to the hospital to have some of your problems checked.

SHEA: Yes, I'm going to check them again, like my throat is like itchy, scratchy. I came home. All I was doing is just vomiting and all of that black soot. I just think God I'm all right. And my girlfriend...

ZAHN: Have you had a chance to -- have you had a chance to see your mother? I know that's what you were thinking about.

SHEA: She's coming. She's coming to get me now. I called her the first thing (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ZAHN: Now, that is going to be one heck of...

SHEA: And I have friends that I -- friends -- I had my boyfriend was going to go there, and he didn't show up. And I kept looking at the door all night for him, and I called him. I said, 'You never went.' And he says -- I says, 'Thank God.' I said, 'The place is down, it's on fire.' I'm just glad he didn't go.

ZAHN: Well, Lisa, that's going to be one heck of a reunion when you're reunited with your mother, because it sounds like just the thought of her is what kept you alive, trying to get out of that building.

Thank you again for sharing your story with us this morning.

And throughout the morning, we're going to be showing you pictures that our local affiliate WPIR captured not only last night during the -- PRI -- not only at the scene last night, but some of the aftermath pictures as well.

We've also heard from Jack Russell, who was the lead singer of the Great White band last night, and here is what he told reporters after he had a chance to think about what went so horribly wrong last night.


JACK RUSSELL, GREAT WHITE LEAD SINGER: We rarely use pyrotechnics. We use them when we get permission from the clubs, because you can't just walk in and start blowing stuff up. It's not, you know -- and we got permission before we did this. I walked onstage. The show went on as usual. All of sudden, I felt a lot of heat, and I turned around, and I see the foam is on fire. I mean, what kind of -- why is that foam -- you know, that's not the right kind of stuff you use.

So, I started trying to douse it with a water bottle thinking I'm going to put it out. And the next thing you know, the whole place is in flames. All of the lights went out, no security lights. And I'm trying to get back in to pull people out, and people are grabbing me, and I'm yelling, 'Anybody in there, anybody in there?' And they wouldn't let me get back in. I'm hearing voices, but I couldn't back in because it was so dark.

I'm just -- I am so saddened. It's such a tragedy, and -- I'm sorry. I'm really in shock right now, and...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But this is very difficult. Jack Russell, the lead singer for the band. He's come back, still looking for a fellow band member who is missing. Again, his name?

RUSSELL: Ty Longley.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he's one of the guitar players.

RUSSELL: Yes, he is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Who had given you guys permission to use the pyrotechnics?

RUSSELL: That would have probably been the club owner or the manager. I don't deal with that. My tour manager does. He's the one that sets all of that up. But we always have permission. Like I said, we never go into a place. You know, we don't use pyro all of the time. I mean, we only do it when it's safe. And we judge whatever the club owner says. If he say yes, it's safe, you know, then we'll use it. If he says no, you can't use it here, the walls are flammable or the ceilings are flammable, then we won't use it. It's not a big deal, you know.

What I don't understand is the foam that they used was not flame- retardant. You know, I'm not trying to push any blame on anybody or anything else. I just couldn't believe how fast it went up, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The latest figures they're saying here, 26 confirmed dead. They don't know for sure at this point how many more they may find, but certainly this is a tragedy of incredible proportions.

I guess any word that you'd like to pass along to family members?

RUSSELL: You know, I've love to say I'm sorry for whatever happened. I mean, I'm not trying to cast blame on myself or anybody else. It's obviously a very tragic and unfortunate incident. This is not what music is supposed to be about. You know, after 25 years of being in the show business, nothing like this has ever happened. And what do you say? You know, gee, I'm sorry. I mean, that doesn't cut it. There are no words that can possibly express the way I feel right now. You know, I'm devastated. I don't know what to -- you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jack Russell, thank you. We appreciate...

RUSSELL: You're very welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... appreciate...

RUSSELL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my condolences to anybody who got hurt, I am so sorry. Thank you.


(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: The lead singer of the Great White, the group that was performing at The Station last night in Rhode Island.

You might have seen some discrepancies in the numbers. That's because that interview was done earlier this morning before the fire chief confirmed that there are 39 dead at the scene. He believes the fatality numbers to go up.

Right now, we're being told that at least 161 patrons of this club are in area hospitals, some in nearby Kent Hospital. Many of those patients being treated for first, second and third-degree burns. Some being treated for more minor problems, like smoke inhalation.

As you can see from the pictures last night, that fire went quickly.

Jack, we've been sitting here watching this all morning long. You and I have covered a lot of fires in our career. This building was engulfed in flames in three minutes. There were no sprinklers in the building. They weren't required to have them...


ZAHN: ... because the building was too small to meet that requirement. But you hear these patrons talking about thinking as the fire got under way that they were watching the show and the tragedy of that.

CAFFERTY: Yes, captivated by what they were watching and assumed for precious seconds that might mean the difference between living and not that it was all part of the show.

The fire chief made an interesting point earlier. He said that the capacity of the club was 300. There were fewer than 300 people in the club at the time.

As you just mentioned, the injury toll is 161 and 39 confirmed dead. That means at least 210 of the people that were there, there weren't many that got out unscathed.

And that courageous woman that talked to you on the telephone, what a riveting account of an absolute nightmare of a night, a horrible situation that she was lucid and very compelling in her description of what went on.

ZAHN: Yes, I think she helped us better understand what the fire chief was talking about when he made it clear that most of the bodies were found at the front exit, back exit and on the dance floor. And he did confirm that a lot of those that lost their lives lost their lives because they were trampled to death.

CAFFERTY: Well, at least some people are creatures of habit, and I guess we all are. You tend to look in an emergency of the door that you came in through instead of, you know, taking that second. And I guess it's not a habit, but you have to look when you go into a place and see where the nearest exit is and sort of make a mental note. My sense is that they will be revisiting things like requirements for sprinklers and things like that probably in some sort of governmental meeting fairly soon, would be my guess.

ZAHN: And I guess the hard thing for anybody at this club last night to accept is the fact that, according to the fire chief, although a pyrotechnics license was required, no one made that application. And we just heard Jack Russell of the band saying that the club manager at least gave the band the understanding that all of that had been taken care of.

CAFFERTY: Yes, and the band said, you know, we don't always use that stuff. We have to make sure that it's all right. So, somewhere there was apparently some kind of a miscommunication or a misunderstanding about whether or not it was all right, and it certainly turned out that it wasn't all right at all.

ZAHN: We're going to stay with this picture. We're going to take a short break.


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