Skip to comments.For Westerly Man, A Night Of Horror He'll Never Forget
Posted on 02/22/2003 5:52:34 AM PST by lexlov68
For Westerly Man, A Night Of Horror He'll Never Forget
By KATIE MELONE Day Staff Writer Published on 2/22/2003
David Malagrino struggles to keep his eyes open. Doctors have just finished cutting open his burned right hand to ease the flow of blood. A half-hour earlier, hospital staff had scrubbed his skin during a burn shower.
It is around 6 p.m. Friday night and Malagrino is lying in room 557 at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. He is one of the lucky ones. The 36-year-old Westerly resident survived the horrifying inferno that decimated The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., less than 24 hours earlier and killed at least 96 people.
The disaster's marks are still fresh.
Tar is ingrained in Malagrino's forehead above his left eyebrow. It dripped from the ceiling of the club and struck him as he lay trapped under bodies. Small burn marks dot his cheek. A large round wound swells from his left bicep.
Those are the wounds the eye can see. If his back and right hand were exposed, they would reveal the second and third-degree burns he suffered while waiting to be rescued.
Half my body was outside and the other half was in, he said, explaining how emergency crews found him. There was a girl on top of me. She had fire going good all over.
I think she ended up dying.
Malagrino had never been to the West Warwick club but agreed to go after a childhood friend, Jon Alberghini Jr., invited him to see a heavy metal band, Great White. The men were among a handful of area residents who made the trip to the concert.
Just before the flames broke out, Malagrino moved close to the stage while Alberghini hung back, standing near a side door. Reached at his Westerly home on Friday, Alberghini was still so traumatized by the fire he would only answer questions through his wife, Lorie.
He was probably one of the first people to get out, his wife said. We have a 9-day-old baby at home. So his first thought was to get the hell out of there.
While Alberghini exited through the club's side door, Malagrino somehow made it from in front of the stage to the front entrance. Malagrino, who is about six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, told family early Friday morning that he became trapped under the pile of bodies when part of the floor collapsed beneath him.
I thought I was done, he said from his hospital bed. He remembers nearly losing consciousness. He's not exactly sure who pulled him out police or firefighters but he says he owes those people his life.
He said, Come on. What's your name? Come on. Come on,' Malagrino recalled of the crew's efforts to keep him alert.
Once outside, Alberghini saw people on fire, running from the building and diving into the snow. Other concertgoers jumped through plate glass windows, trying to escape by any means possible.
It wasn't until 2 a.m. Friday that Alberghini and Malagrino's family were notified that Malagrino was in Rhode Island Hospital.
We were frantic, Malagrino's sister, Dana Gingerella said. A member of a close family that grew up in Westerly only a few blocks from where they now live, Malagrino, a bartender, lives in a downstairs apartment in Gingerella's home at 45 Fairview Ave. Their mother, Vicki Malagrino, lives in another apartment at one end of the house.
Vicki, remarkably calm, spent all day Friday at the hectic hospital with her son. It was hard to avoid thinking about the tragedy; reminders greeted hospital visitors wherever they went. Outside the hospital, a woman sitting on a bench sobbed into her chest, embraced on either side by a man and a woman.
Inside, the fifth-floor waiting room was packed. The air was thick with body heat.
Farther down the hall, a man with a red, burned face was lying with his eyes swollen shut. The man's arms were raised at shoulder level, wrapped in bandages in traction. Malagrino's family identified the man as the manager of the band Great White.
Thank God I'm alive, Malagrino said. That's all I got to say.
And with that, he turned his head against the pillow and shut his eyes.
In a matter of minutes ...
On Friday afternoon, another Westerly resident, Brandon Fravala, went back to see the smoldering shell of The Station, the nightclub where the 24-year-old had watched people die.
Behind me, there were people burning up, he remembered, standing in a parking lot across Cowesett Avenue from what was The Station. You couldn't tell if they were men or women; there were just screams coming out of the fire.
Fravala had driven Christopher Costa and Bill Chapel to the club from Westerly. The trio arrived at about 10 p.m. Thursday, and Fravala and Costa snaked their way through a crowd of more than 300 people, securing a spot in the middle of the dance floor about 15 feet from the stage.
As the headliner, Great White, picked the first riffs from their guitars, pyrotechnics began showering the stage with gold-colored sparks.
It caught the wall first, but we thought it was part of the show, said Fravala.
But then, the insulation on the ceiling ignited, and flames jumped out of the upper sides of the stage. The fire shot in streaks across the ceiling, raging over the heads of the crowd.
In a matter of three minutes, the whole building was engulfed. Smoke, thick, black and impenetrable, filled the floor. As the heat got closer, screams of concertgoers trapped in the crowd got louder.
Fravala turned his head back toward the stage. I could smell burning flesh and saw people totally in flames, he said.
As smoke cut visibility to a few inches and the flames grew, the crowd panicked.
It was like somebody let the leash off the dogs, Costa said.
The crowd surged forward, elbow-to-elbow, screaming, struggling and trying to get to a door. Fravala made it to within the shadow of the front door. He tripped over a body, falling face first out the door onto a cement patio at the club's entrance. Twenty people fell on top of Fravala, burying him from the waist down into a screaming mass.
Trapped, Fravala grabbed a metal pole. His upper body was free from the mess, but his legs were trapped beneath piles of people. Heat from flames that shot out of the door singed his legs.
A West Warwick police officer and another man pulled him out of the pile, Fravala said.
In the end, he lost his shoes, bruised his ankle, banged his elbow and his lungs burned from smoke. Still, Fravala was lucky. He was alive.
While Fravala was being pulled from the wreckage, Costa had fallen at another one of the club's entrances. His eyes shut, he found his way out by grabbing the shirt of a woman in front of him and covering his mouth with his own shirt.
While on the ground, he was kicked, punched and trampled by people behind him trying to escape. At that point I was a hockey puck, he said.
Costa stood up and walked to the front entrance, where he saw a huge pile of people, stacked like wood, he said.
Some lady stood up with her hair on fire, her shirt on fire, walking, looking lackadaisical, he said of one woman who emerged from the pile. She was in shock.
After nearly an hour of searching, Costa finally found Fravala and Chapel. They walked back to their car, Fravala in his socks. The three drove back to South County, and then Costa and Fravala walked in to The Westerly Hospital, where they were treated for minor injuries.
I can't believe it, Costa said. It's going to be burned in my memory forever.
It had to happen sometime, a rock and roll nightmare
A second e-mail from Todd King: Andrew thanks for thoughts.
We have been a mess all day with no sleep reliving last evening. My first thoughts are have your readers that you know of being there get out ok other than the ones on your page?
And surprising after contacting the police, TV 10, and the posting on your site as well as a lady who we were asked to call at the Red Cross hotline so they could figure the head count no one has mentioned that security was a main cause of the pile up at the front door which probably only got worse. Literally 90 seconds to my car to the phone to the front doors and the last seconds of the infamous tape now is actual time from beginning to the total engulfing of the place in flames.
I am stuck with the thought that roughly 80% of the crowd were seriously injured or killed and we walked out without a scratch because my wife was paying attention.
And by some miracle we had just returned to our place from the restrooms as if one minute either way we would be separated and neither would have left without the other. If you see the reports people were in the bathrooms seeking refuge and calling the police on cell phones.
The scene at the front door was something you would see in a horror movie and the people in the footage are people we saw all evening at the venue.
One person had a picture of a relative on tv and that man was literally within a foot of us as we exited. He is missing and the thoughts are troubling on thinking about. People not leaving when we did thinking the fire was a stage prop.
My wife made it loud and clear and people around us heard her and did follow us out which is a small comfort that some people may not have been watching what was unfolding and her warning may have at least helped one person or more get alarmed and move out.
When I got the injured people to the restaurant I saw things I wish I never did while trying to help. There were people with the skin burned off of there bodies, people in disbelief and horror screaming for friends, a woman screaming in pain who had children.
One positive I recall though is right as I returned from the restroom I saw a cocktail waitress who had been working all night in our area and was really sweet and polite. I ordered two beers off of her and watched as she walked into the heart of the club to get them. As we were at the restaurant helping out I had just taken off clothing and started passing it out when I tuned and she walked in. I was so relieved and seems that it was some sort of message as I would have been the reason for her leaving our area and possible evacuation into the hardest part to escape from. The guilt would have been hard to take and her getting out was nothing short of a miracle.
Andrew unfortunately we both thank god we got out but also have the question of how the hell we got out without a scratch. This will trouble us for the rest of our lives with the guilt of just being able to walk away without injury while so many others died. Even trying to help leaves little solace in the fact that so many died in such a short time in such a horrible way.
Our prayers also go out to not only the victims but to Jack as it seems that the politicians have now started lining up and the media is starting to lay the blame wherever they can. I will attest to the door issue and also that the Kiss tribute band that plays there does the fire breathing trick in the place. The thought he must have is that all these people came to see the band and how little the management did to secure the place no matter what went on in there with the props. The place went to black immediately even before we got out. People panicked because they couldn't see and no one was paying attention to alert the crowd. No one was working the front of the stage and where the hell was the fire extinguishers. The fire alarms went off but they were just not very loud for a place with loud live music.
Jack was who we saw trying to put the fire out and if you see the video it seems that TY jumps down and goes to the right as the rest of the band goes to the left and out the door.
The EMS and fire department were there within two minutes of the call I made. We can only pray that they can recover from what they saw in the minutes after arriving and removing the lost souls in that hell hole.
One last thought, my brother and I were speaking today about all the shows we have seen. Clubs the same size or smaller have had more pyro than this club had last evening. I used to work security at clubs all over Northern Massachusetts. I am also a life long music fan and recall bands such as Warrant, Vince Neil and especially Ace Frehley doing much more in small venues. Friggin Ace Frehley shot rockets over the crowd and blew up his guitar in a club called the underground so these types of things are not uncommon. The blame seems to be starting to be one sided but most clubs are covered with anti flame material and painted with flame retardant paint as well.
Sort of a blow out room quality in the stage area not just for the bands bringing props but to protect everyone inside. Whatever the sound proofing was made of was a disaster waiting to happen. It attracted the flames and combusted as if covered in gasoline. No inspector would have allowed that kind of material to stand in a night club. You cant even get pajamas that aren't flame retardant never mind place it as a covering in a night club with hundreds of peoples lives involved.
Also if the other clubs starting to complain now were so upset why wasn't Great White informed of this until after something occurs like this. Hindsight is always 20/20.
". . .screams coming out of the fire'; 'hallmark words'. . .
May lives be saved because lives were lost. . .
. . .this is true and am not denying greater responsibilities here; but in the final analysis; surely, surely. . .the band member/s could/should have known this as well. They were 'up-close and personal' with their special effects and surely were the most aware of what their environment should be.