If there are two sides to every story, then the saga of the Station nightclub fire must have at least 103 versions. If we could hear the voices of the dead, those they left behind, and all those accused of liability, we would certainly have a unique recollection of that nightmare in February 2003.
Outside that circle, there are frequent calls for accountability, vengeance, “the truth,” and, sometimes, forgiveness. Objectivity has long since gone begging, and emotion has all but decimated reason. Through it all, Judge Francis Darigan struggles admirably to keep the ship of due process on the right course. His extraordinary determination not to give in to the pressures that surround him lends new meaning to grace and judicial temperament.
Those who died have been sanctified. Great White, tour manager Dan Biechele, and the club owners have, for the most part, been demonized out-of-hand, and the civil authorities — the only players in this drama who are trained and paid to prevent such tragedies — have seemingly slinked away, suggesting, once again, that a political bureaucracy protects its own.
Though few dare mention aloud some of the “other” sides to this story, as time goes on and public sympathy caves in under the endless private grief that has at times become a public drone, people say privately that it is time to move on. They are sympathetic, though capable of detachment and realism.
The Station was a place where people went to drink, to be entertained, and to party. Not everyone was the saint he or she has become in death. The owners were not known as irresponsible profiteers. In short, some people conclude, “Stuff happens.”
No one says this aloud, of course. No one wants to hear the reaction to the observation that, in the end, the Station fire was mainly a tragic accident with a ghastly toll. No one wants to admit how the so-called “truth” about what really led to that night may never be known; not because the Derderians are unwilling to get at it, but because they, too, could be victims of the same bureaucratic juggling (which some might call a cover-up) that we know exist.
Ironically, the Derderians’ refusal to cop a plea, which would probably serve them better in the long run, is the only thing ensuring that survivors and the loved ones of the deceased, as well as the community, will know more than they could otherwise.
Who, more than the accused and their families, could want this discussion to be over? Who could wish to move away from this endless rehash of the nightmare more than the defendants, the legal teams, and the judge? Defense lawyer and former attorney general Jeff Pine has already walked away.
Yet real justice demands the telling of the story one last time — this time through the eyes of those willing to bet on “the truth,” in a way that the many may not have been willing to do. It’s a big wager, and a brave one.