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Governor Carcieri Holds News Briefing

Aired February 22, 2003 - 12:14   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take our viewers now to Rhode Island, where that West Warwick night club fire is now the topic of discussion at this press conference. let's listen in.
GOV. DON CARCIERI, RHODE ISLAND: ... medical examiner and her staff. That does not look feasible. Their judgment right now is there may be one, possibly two additional people identified using any kind of visual means. And I communicated that to the families just before I came over here.

Therefore, as you are well aware, nine families -- we've made positive identification. Those families have been communicated with. There are some instances, and the general, I'll ask the general to give you the names. We will not have nine names. You'll only have seven, because in some cases there are multiple members and those have not been completed in terms of communicating with them.

There have been, as I -- I don't know if I said -- no additional fatalities, our latest information, at any of the hospitals.

Right now, what is clear to me after spending an hour, as I say, in the medical examiners office, that the most effective, fastest way of identifying the bodies is dental records. As I went through the process and discussed the different options, we are -- the state police are fingerprinting everyone where they can, but as I went through and listened to that process, that is a time consuming and not a high percentage way to identify the bodies. Because, obviously, you have to have been fingerprinting, and then there are systems and networks you have to feed these things through, all of which takes time, and in fact the success ratio from past experience has not been that high.

Therefore, the principle means that are going to be employed are dental records, and in my judgment, that's our critical path right now. What we've done is mobilize everything we can to get the dentists identified. I spoke to the families. We still have a number of gaps where we have not identified dentists and we're trying to plug that and ask the family members, please, if you give us the name of the dentist, then we'll run with the ball from there. We are organized at the medical examiners office to contact the dentist. We have couriers supplemented by state police to go and actually retrieve the records.

So at this point, what we need from the families are the names of the dentists and so that is ongoing. The other piece that I need your help on is that we need to get word out to those dentists to check their office voicemails et cetera, because what's happening in some cases, we've got names of a dentist and we've got an office number, we're contacting an office, but of course it being Saturday and tomorrow Sunday, it's not occupied.

Now, in some cases we're getting answering services and they are efficiently forwarding that. But the message I have to any dentist out there today is please check your office voicemail. Call your office on the possibility that you are trying to get contacted and that if you are, you should have a message there to contact a number, but I'll give that number here, just in case. And that number is 222- 5500. Let me repeat, 222-5500.

So, any dentist that has information on any of the missing persons, please contact that -- check your offices, your voicemail, and contact.

If we can get all of the dental records, if we can get that information, we have all of the resources in place to start matching these up fairly quickly. We have, as I said last night, five teams, five each, 25 people, in from other parts of the country. We've got a mobile unit on its way, which we may or may not need, and the medical examiners office has been going through the process of reviewing each body, each situation, and so if we've got the medical -- the dental records, rather, I think we're pretty confident that we can move fairly quickly.

Now, having said that, this is not a process that happens in one day, but I am hopeful that if we've got the proper dental records, that this is something that can be done in a matter of days, whether that's three days, four days or five days will depend, but it is, you know, reasonably efficient.

As I looked at the number of resources we have, the process that they utilize, I am comfortable that we can get this done.

But right now, I want to reiterate again -- right now, what we need is dentists who have been contacted to respond and then we will get those records. We are looking at some other ways to expedite that as well. There are some databases of dental records that we know of here in the state. And we're looking to see if we can do another way of matching that.

So we're going down every avenue we can (AUDIO GAP) concerned and wants this to happen as quickly as possible. (AUDIO GAP) I don't want any expense (AUDIO GAP) and it's a process here (AUDIO GAP).

So that is -- I think we've got the right resources, and I've given the message loud and clear to Dr. Lapasada (ph), chief medical examiner, if there is any other resource required, just a phone call, we've got it. (AUDIO GAP) go through this.

Let me just say we also had, following a meeting of the task force, just to review other things that we need to do, in terms of communication, and a number of different issues. One of the things that I told the families here is that we will be organizing a site visit for family members. That will -- that's all being worked out now. That will most likely be organized for sometime in the middle of tomorrow afternoon, and that will be centered out of the Crown Plaza, and we're trying to communicate with those families. Many of them were not there today. Some are at home, and we will make them aware of what the process will be.

We're going to try to get some buses so that in an orderly fashion we can shuttle families (AUDIO GAP). Those of you who have been there know, it's tough, you know, for people just to go there. There's not good parking. That's a busy road. So we're trying to organize this in a fashion so that those families will have access to that.

Just looking down -- any other -- I can't say enough about (AUDIO GAP) and not just from the law enforcement and the firemen (AUDIO GAP) and hospitals (AUDIO GAP) is extraordinary as well. As you all know, what they face (AUDIO GAP).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... they were notified by the Dept. of Healthy and the American Red Cross. I will make available (AUDIO GAP) for the actual list (AUDIO GAP) and ask that you would accept that (AUDIO GAP). Thank you.

CARCIERI: All right, let me also add, I should have, two things. On the site visit sometime tomorrow, as I said this morning, I would ask all of you to please honor the privacy of the families going to this site. We are going to actually ask the media not to be close on the site. We're working that out. We're going to cordon off the site. We're looking at whether it's necessary to close the road, because you know, that's a busy road. We may have to close it for a period of time.

We're looking at all those options, but we would ask you please to respect the families and what they're going through. Many will not have seen that site until tomorrow, and you know what it looks like. You've all been there. And so the emotion and the trauma of that is something we should all be cognizant of.

All right, questions.

QUESTION: Governor, before you said that a couple of the -- two of the people could not be identified visually. Were you referring to survivors?

CARCIERI: No, let me back up. This morning I said there were two Jane Does at Massachusetts Hospital that they think can be identified, but have not been yet. What I have been saying is that I said several times in the last day that our expectation was that there was as many as five or six beyond the nine that have been identified that may be able to be identified visually. That's not the case, after having met with the medical examiner and after they reviewed the situation, they think there is only one, possibly two.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) CARCIERI: Yes, there was one question that I received before I came over here, in terms of why did it happen, what happened? Who was responsible and what was going on? I reiterated what you've been told. We've got an investigation going on at several fronts -- the attorney general's office, the state police, the ATF and the local police departments. We are going on every direction to try and get to the bottom of any culpability here.

And I said that we will go as hard and as long until we get answers, and if there is criminal behavior it will be prosecuted to the fullest extent. I have to say most of the concern -- I know many of you it's what happened and how and who is responsible, but right now our concern and the vast majority of the families that I spoke to concern is they just want closure. They know their loved one is there, and they want to know that it is for sure, and they want to have that loved one back again so they can go through the burial process.

QUESTION: Governor, you have met with the families at least twice now. And coming off that response just there, is it a sense of resignation that has settled in with the people that you have been meeting with or is there still some optimism that there may be a better outcome for some of these families?

CARCIERI: I think that is hard, Jack. I think everybody has optimism and yet you hope for the best. There is no question and as time goes by and loved ones have not surfaced. We are pretty certain we now other than the two Jane Does in Massachusetts, we have identified all of those that are in hospitals. So unless a loved one for some reason has not surfaced, I think that most of the families have concluded, you know, that they have lost a loved one.

You know, we all hold out hope, but the reality begins to set in. That is why I said that whatever resources it takes, we've got to do everything we can to complete this identification process. I'm a little concerned that we may have someone that was lost in that fire for whom a loved one, a family has not surfaced. We could have a student, for example, from a foreign country who may have gone on their own and nobody is aware of this. So it is still a very difficult situation.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) where are these bodies being held right now? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

CARCIERI: Well, let me take the first part. All the bodies that have been recovered are at the medical examiners' location. They are all there. There was one question that came up from a family member that seemed to get some information that this was one that had been communicated with that their loved one was not there. No, they are all there as of when I left this morning. And the process is once a positive identification has been made, the family has been notified, then there are some other medical procedures and paperwork that goes through, and then the bodies are being released to their families, through the normal course of funeral directors.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) CARCIERI: I don't know as we stand here right now, I don't.




CARCIERI: Well, I think that, as I said, many of them have asked -- they want to go there, they want to leave some memento, and they want to see the site. They've been at the Crown Plaza most of them now for a quite a length of time, and they've watched the news coverage and so forth.

But I can understand that, so we are just trying to accommodate that desire. Yes, Kara.


CARCIERI: The answer is, if we have the dental records, there is a very high probability that all of the bodies can be identified. And it is not like the airlines disaster situation, and so, we just need to have a vehicle to make that identification positive, and absent right now -- visual identification is -- is not feasible, and therefore, and there may be some results from the fingerprinting, but as I listen to the description of the process and that, you know, I am not that optimistic. So, dental is the most efficient, most likely, and if we cannot get dental records, than it will have to be DNA.


QUESTION: You said that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) victims that were identified, when that family asks about what happened, how would you specifically answer their question?

CARCIERI: You mean why did it happen, what happened there?

QUESTION: When somebody asked you what happened, how did you answer that question?

CARCIERI: You know, the question was more framed why did they have that kind of event in that kind of a venue, and my response is the same response you've heard, in my judgment, there should not have been a pyrotechnic display in that venue. That was an old wooden building, not sprinklered, and I remember being there when it was a restaurant, and I said it should not have happened. Somebody made a very, very bad decision, and it's cost an enormous human tragedy here, and that is just a terrible thing.

QUESTION: Have you planned a memorial?

CARCIERI: Yes, we are working that out as well. There are going to be -- I'm sorry. There are going to be some public interfaith services and so forth that are being planned. In terms of a memorial, if you mean a memorial at the site, nobody -- we haven't gotten that far to talk about it. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on the process of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) investigation? (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARCIERI: Well, I think that pretty much the work is complete at the scene. I spoke to the ATF people and others. There may be, after we secure it, there are some federal teams, some other teams may be coming i in the next two days to do some other analyses of the site. But our teams locally have pretty much completed with any site investigations.



CARCIERI: I'm not sure exactly, but there are different jurisdictions different people have, and I think that making certain what the cause was and what happened, that kind of thing.


CARCIERI: I can't tell you anything on that. As I said yesterday, there was some material recovered from the site. I have not seen or heard at this stage any kind of analysis, so I can't tell you what kind of pyrotechnics that were in use.

QUESTION: Were they analyzed, though?


QUESTION: In a broad sense can you give us an idea where you are in your investigation?

PATRICK LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL, RHODE ISLAND: In a broad sense, Rhode Island is a small community, as you know, some don't. I guess the good portion from the investigative standpoint of having a couple of most talented prosecutors on the scene, really just to lend a hand from the time this horrific incident occurred. Naturally, from that point, I arrived shortly thereafter, and the investigation has been in full strife since then, largely because of the cooperative effort from remarkable members of law enforcement, both police and fire, specifically the West Warwick Police Department, fire department, the ATF, which has been referencing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in their assistance to us. The state police, and of course the fire marshals office.

QUESTION: Where is the band, Great White, now?

LYNCH: I have no comment.

QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, earlier today we were talking and you had said that you are conducting a criminal investigation of sorts, and that there was a search for justice. What is justice in a case like this?

LYNCH: Well, that is something we will all look for. Justice in some respects, I think, is what thanks to the governor, his leadership has shown and those other leaders, the speaker, the senator behind me. Justice right now for our community is us pulling together to bring solace where we can to a community that is in great pain. I continue to say that Rhode Island, you know, people say that around the world there are six degrees of separation. In Rhode Island, there is about a degree and a half. But thanks to the leadership like this, keeping our eye on the ball. The justice that we are trying to provide is solace to the people that are in great pain right now.

The criminal investigation will continue. We have not rested yet. I personally have not rested, nor will we rest until we make a determination if charges should be brought.

QUESTION: General, can you tell us -- General...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) do you think that someone, personally think that someone should go to jail for this crime?

CARCIERI: You have to be careful. All right? If there was wrongdoing and a crime has been committed, then someone should go to jail. And I'm not saying this is the case here. That's an investigation and a process that is going to have to go on. I'm also not saying that this was just an unfortunate accident. Because you know, accidents can happen, and many people lose their lives. I'm not saying that here. I'm saying the same thing the attorney general is saying, there is a process we've got to go on, and we've got to get the facts, get the research done, get the investigation done, and just rest assured that it will be pursued with all vigor and we will pursue it as hard and as long as we have to until we're satisfied.



CARCIERI: The last briefing I had this morning was that it is still the same number in intensive care, which was 25. As I think I briefed you this morning that we had some misinformation earlier that I had thought there were only 10 -- not only, but 10 people have been transferred to Massachusetts hospitals -- that's 19, so it was more. And those in most cases are specialized burn units so that most of those patients are in severe condition.


CARCIERI: Well, right now it was -- I'm hesitating -- the 81 hospitalized I think is still the right number. It's just that I said 10 were in Massachusetts, 71 here. So change that. As far as I know, there has been no further hospitalizations.



CARCIERI: Well, that's part of it. But what I'm trying to say is given the condition of the bodies that the medical examiner's judgment is that the vast majority, in fact, virtually all of them, can be identified using dental records.

We would only need DNA if we cannot get a dental record, and if fingerprinting does not come to a conclusion. So that's my emphasis and that's why I want to say again I keep emphasizing the importance of the dental records from the families.

QUESTION: Governor, yesterday you discussed combustible materials inside this building. You said that there should not have been pyrotechnics. One thing I believe you mentioned (ph) was (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARCIERI: I cannot. I don't if the -- we have any results of those tests yet. No, we don't. You've seen the condition of the site, and it's very difficult to come back and see what was that, what was it. Probably you're saying, what was it, and that's going to take a lot of time and analysis. Right now, we don't know.

Yes, last question.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) change the rules to require all bars, no matter how big, to have sprinkles?

CARCIERI: Well, let's say we're going to look at all of those things. We've had a tragedy of just immense proportions. You look behind me here, you look at the support that's come forward from all the general officers, you look at the support in this community, you look at the outpouring of grief and love and support -- I don't want to see this happen. So we're going to do whatever we can, and we'll have to look at the laws, look at the situation. As I said this morning, the fire marshals have instructed the deputy fire marshals in different parts of the state to make an assessment of what we're calling sort of high risk cargo. Now, there are similar facilities. You know, old wood buildings that are not sprinklered that are being used for a similar kinds of activities. I want to know that, and then we want to get those things inspected.

As to whether we need more laws, I don't know yet. We'll just let that play out. OK, thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: You've been listened to the governor of Rhode Island, as well as the attorney general there, who say that the identification process in what is now a criminal investigation has been tedious at best. It has been quite the challenge. So far, they've got positive ID's of nine bodies of at least 96 people who were killed on Thursday night, the Station nightclub, pyrotechnics fire.


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