Station nightclub fire anguish still felt 15 years later

In this Feb. 20, 2003, aerial file photo, firefighters work amid the charred ruins of The Station nightclub, where 100 people died in a late night fire in West Warwick, R.I., started when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White set fire to flammable foam installed as soundproofing. (AP Photo/ Robert E. Klein, File)
In this Feb. 20, 2003, aerial file photo, firefighters work amid the charred ruins of The Station nightclub, where 100 people died in a late night fire in West Warwick, R.I., started when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White set fire to flammable foam installed as soundproofing. (AP Photo/ Robert E. Klein, File)

Every year, when the calendar hits Feb. 1, Sarah Ballard starts to get anxious and depressed.

She starts reading articles about The Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., hoping to find some new nugget of information she didn’t have before.

It makes her feel closer to her mother. Ballard's mother, Sarah Telgarsky, died in the fire that killed 100 people and injured more than 200 others 15 years ago on Tuesday. She was 37 years old.

“It’s just important for people to remember these people who passed away. They didn’t die in vain,” said Sarah Ballard, 33, of Lisbon. “It’s important to check your exits when you go somewhere. It’s important to tell your loved ones that you love them when you still have them, because you never know when they’re going to get taken away from you.”

A memorial service was planned for Sunday at the park where the nightclub burned on Feb. 20, 2003, but the service was postponed due to forecasted snow. It has been rescheduled for May 20.

Ballard remembers the fire like it just happened.

She was 18 years old, taking classes at Three Rivers Community College, and staying at her grandparents’ house during the week because it was closer to the school. She talked to her mother the day of the fire, though Telgarsky didn’t mention she would be seeing the rock band Great White that night.

“I talked to her the day of the concert, and she said, ‘I love you, honey, and I’ll see you tomorrow.' And then that was it,” Ballard said.

The following morning, Ballard arrived home to find an empty house, the lights on, the basement door open and clothes laid out on the bed. Still, she thought her mother was at work. 

It wasn't until later that day that she learned Telgarsky had gone to the concert with her ex-husband, Ballard’s father, Craig Ballard.

Sarah Ballard said her mother's friend drove to West Warwick with her that night, picking up her aunt on the way.

“I just remember sitting there and crying and praying,” she said. “I was frantically calling her cell.” They learned that Craig Ballard was in a medically induced coma at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. He suffered severe burns but survived. Once Sarah Ballard realized her mother was among the missing, she knew.

Her parents had gone to the concert with another couple, Samuel J. Miceli Jr., 37, and Jude Henault, 37, who lived together in Lisbon. Both died in the fire.

A few days later, Ballard said she saw a video clip from inside the nightclub, the night of the fire. Her parents were near the stage, dancing.

Ballard, who is named after her mother, said she still feels her presence. Telgarsky was a nurse in the young adult services program at the Southeastern Mental Health Authority at Uncas on Thames in Norwich, and was studying to become a registered nurse when she died.

Later, Ballard went on to study nursing, also. Though she recently left the field, she remembers her first day of nursing school. She was wishing her mother could have been there.

Then, she said she walked in and saw her mother's class picture on the wall.

d.straszheim@theday.com

Sarah Telgarsky is seen in this undated photo. She died in the fire at The Station nightclub on Feb. 20, 2003, in West Warwick, R.I. (Courtesy of Sarah Ballard)
Sarah Telgarsky is seen in this undated photo. She died in the fire at The Station nightclub on Feb. 20, 2003, in West Warwick, R.I. (Courtesy of Sarah Ballard)
A passer-by walks near a memorial to Station nightclub fire victim Kelly L. Vieira, right, following a ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, held to mark the 15th anniversary of the fire, in West Warwick, R.I. The Feb. 20, 2003 fire at the nightclub in West Warwick, that killed 100 and injured more than 200 others, started when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White set fire to flammable foam installed as soundproofing. The site of the fire is now a memorial park. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
A passer-by walks near a memorial to Station nightclub fire victim Kelly L. Vieira, right, following a ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, held to mark the 15th anniversary of the fire, in West Warwick, R.I. The Feb. 20, 2003 fire at the nightclub in West Warwick, that killed 100 and injured more than 200 others, started when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White set fire to flammable foam installed as soundproofing. The site of the fire is now a memorial park. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
A flower rests near a memorial to a victim of the Station nightclub fire following a ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, held to mark the 15th anniversary of the fire, in West Warwick, R.I. The Feb. 20, 2003, fire at the nightclub in West Warwick, that killed 100 and injured more than 200 others, started when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White set fire to flammable foam installed as soundproofing. The site of the fire is now a memorial park. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
A flower rests near a memorial to a victim of the Station nightclub fire following a ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, held to mark the 15th anniversary of the fire, in West Warwick, R.I. The Feb. 20, 2003, fire at the nightclub in West Warwick, that killed 100 and injured more than 200 others, started when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White set fire to flammable foam installed as soundproofing. The site of the fire is now a memorial park. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Remembering the victims

Several other local residents also died in The Station nightclub fire on Feb. 20, 2003:

- Michael Cordier, 31, of Westerly, an employee of McLaughlin & Moran Distributors, was at the nightclub as part of a Budweiser promotion. He was the son of Ron and Katie Cordier.

- Chief Machinist Mate Daniel John Frederickson, 37, and his wife, Tracey, lived in Coventry, R.I. Frederickson joined the Navy in September 1983 and was seven months from qualifying for retirement. He had been working at the Naval Submarine Support Facility in Groton since May 2000. Frederickson had four children from a previous marriage.

- Melvin Gerfin Jr., 46, of Groton cleaned the offices of a New London radio station that gave away tickets to the concert. He formerly worked at Wyman-Gordon in Groton. He was survived by his wife, Deborah, three daughters, a grandson, his father and three sisters.

- Kristen McQuarrie, 37, of Ledyard was a server at Branches restaurant at Two Trees Inn. The mother of two had just moved from Rhode Island to Ledyard.

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