One of the deadliest nightclub fires in U.S. history inspired Cold Case's deadliest episode

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: March 28, 2019, 12:17PM

For the Cold Case episode "Disco Inferno," Lilly Rush notes at one point during the episode, the detectives aren't just investigating one cold case, but 23. There are more deaths in this single episode than any other in the show's run, which makes sense, considering it's inspired in part by one of the deadliest nightclub fires in U.S. history.

Although the Cold Case episode takes place in 1978 and centers on a dance contest with a $1,000 prize, in reality, the horrors the episode depicts come from a real event that occured in 2003 at a nightclub in Rhode Island. Called the Station, the nightclub claimed the lives of 100 people attending a concert of the hair metal band Great White, including the band's lead guitarist Ty Longley and the night's emcee WHJY DJ Mike "The Doctor" Gonsalves.

During the band's opening song, one of their biggest hits "Desert Moon," about 20 seconds in, the pyrotechnics went off and the singer can be seen on video captured from the night leaning into the mic and admitting, "Wow ... that's not good." The fire effects tragically engulfed the entire nightclub in what officials estimated took approximately one minute.

In total, 230 concertgoers were injured and 132 attendees escaped, only to report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder from the scarring event's overwhelming heat, toxic smoke and the crowded crushing rush to the exits. Both the band's manager Daniel M. Biechele and the brothers who owned the nightclub, Jeffrey A. and Michael A. Derderian, were charged with involuntary manslaughter. This due to negligence with the pyrotechnics on Biechele's part, and on the owners' part, the venue was faulted for improper installation of flammable foam, in addition to its lack of sprinkler system.

On Cold Case, however, Lilly wasn't worried about what caused the fire, but instead, she and Scotty must dig into the nightclub fire due to a skull that's been found in the rubble with a bullet hole in it. So the similarities between the true crime in 2003 and Lilly's disco disaster in 1978 end pretty quickly, with the historic fire serving as inspiration for the episode's cover-up, leading instead to a more Cold Case-like set-up of murder and mystery.

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