Many Still Angry Over Rhode Island Nightclub Fire

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (AP) -- In the nine months since a nightclub fire killed 100 people here, birthdays have been missed, graduations have gone unattended and anger has been building as survivors and victims' loved ones struggle to place blame.

Time has helped to heal some, like 43-year-old Sharon Wilson, who speaks proudly of how her boyfriend rescued her from the crush of people. Still, she is haunted by the guilt shared by many who escaped.

Others have vented their frustrations: One woman pulled down two crosses dedicated to Great White guitarist Ty Longley, who died in the fire caused by his own band's pyrotechnics.

``Ty's cross does not belong with my daughter's,'' said Diane Mattera, who says Longley shares the blame for the death of 29-year-old Tammy Mattera Housa. ``That's it, pure and simple.''

The crosses, taken down in September, have since been replaced.

``There is a great deal of anger, there's no one to point a finger at, to say 'look what you did', or 'this is the cause,''' said Jeffrey Brusini, who supervises a resource center for fire victims and their families run by Family Services of Rhode Island. The anger, he said, has ``always been there but we're starting to see more of it. We expect it will increase.''

The Feb. 20 fire started when Great White set off a shower of sparks that ignited flammable soundproofing foam. Many of the dead and the 200 injured were trapped in the smoke and flames when patrons rushed for the same exit.

Attorney General Patrick Lynch is hopeful a grand jury investigating the fire will decide on criminal charges by the end of this year, or early next.

``I certainly have seen ... the pain on their faces and the weight on their shoulders. It is miserable to see, and I can't imagine how bad it is to feel,'' Lynch said.

Leland Hoisington, who lost his 28-year-old daughter Abbie, said some movement in the investigation would help him move on with his life, including a return to his job as a math teacher. Hoisington, of Attleboro, Mass., tried to go back to the classroom within weeks of the fire, but soon realized he wasn't ready and has stayed home since.

``It would help me to see some progress,'' he said. ``I'm very much afraid there will be some degree of legal minimizing of this entire thing.''

Bonnie Hoisington, Leland's wife, isn't dwelling on holding someone accountable. She's more interested in getting a headstone for her daughter's grave and is pushing for a permanent victims' memorial.

But she's dreading the holidays without 28-year-old Abbie, who was a special-education teacher. ``Abbie was the one who did the baking and was enthusiastic about everything,'' she said, tears filling her eyes.

Wilson, whose live-in boyfriend Robert Cripe pulled her from a pile of people stacked at the club's entrance, says she, like many survivors, struggles with feelings of guilt.

She and went to the club with friend Bonnie Hamelin, who died.

``Bob got me out of the fire but should it have been her? I have that guilt, should I be alive?''

Cripe went back to work with a trucking company a week later. He says he's gotten over initial feelings of guilt, in part with the help of a weekly support group the couple attends.

He keeps some mementos from the fire on a desk at home _ a magazine with a photo of him at the club's smoke-filled entrance, and three ticket stubs from the Great White show.

Wilson spoke proudly of how Cripe saved her and three or four others.

``Just not Bonnie,'' Cripe said.

Others, like survivor Arthur ``Jamie'' Conway, haven't begun dealing with emotional effects from the fire.

He lost his friend Shawn Sweet, 28.

``I can't go to his grave, not yet, not yet,'' said Conway, of Abington, Mass. The 29-year-old piano player hasn't sought counseling, in part because he fears adding to the thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. He has no health insurance and suffered burns and other injuries that required a week's hospitalization.

He's eager for charges to be filed so the responsible parties ``get what's coming to them.''

But he gets through most days trying not to think about the fire.

``It's just life, you know?'' he said.