Land donation helps advance plans for memorial to victims

Jess Bidgood / New York Times News Service /

Published Oct 1, 2012 at 05:00AM

WEST WARWICK, R.I. — There is a striking, if scrappy, shrine here, where dozens of homemade crosses rise behind a corroded parking lot, set back from a thin state highway ridged with strip malls and myriad power lines.

This is where the Station nightclub used to stand — the site of a fire in 2003 that killed 100 people. For nearly 10 years, this stretch of grass has been a reliquary for these mementos. But the landowners retained ownership, preventing a formally constructed memorial from taking shape here, and leaving it up to families to mark and maintain this space on their own.

“My family’s been pretty much mowing and raking and keeping it up, trying to make it look good,” said Shawn Corbett, whose brother Edward died in the fire. That is about to change. On Friday, the Station Fire Memorial Foundation announced that the owner, Raymond Villanova, had donated the land to the group — which is run mostly by survivors of the blaze.

“It means the world,” Corbett said quietly.

“This is the last place where they had fun,” said Paula McLaughlin, whose younger brother, Michael Hoogasian, and his wife, Sandy, died on that February night. “People who have lost children need a place to go.”

The Hoogasians and more than 400 others had come to the 4,400-square-foot club to see the band Great White perform on the night of Feb. 20, 2003. Shortly after 11 o’clock, the band’s tour manager lit a pyrotechnic display, which ignited foam insulation near the back of the stage.

The fire engulfed the building in just six minutes, sending a crush of people to the front entrance. Many of the 100 died from smoke inhalation, while more than 200 others were injured — trampled and burned.

In the next few weeks, foundation members expect to meet with designers and begin raising money for the project. Their goal is $5 million, so they can establish a trust fund for the memorial’s maintenance.