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Parents Lose Only Child in R.I. Club Fire

March 7, 2003

JOHNSTON, R.I. (AP) _ They called him the ``Miracle Child.″

Steven Mancini got the nickname when he came back practically from the dead as a 19-year-old so crumpled from an auto accident that doctors begged his mother to take him off life support and a priest twice administered last rites.

Barbara and Doug Magness refused to give in, and they were rewarded. Their only child emerged from a monthlong coma and was stitched together like a doll.

In the 20 years since, the Magnesses watched proudly as their son became a man. They watched him get a job at a supermarket, play guitar in a band that recently won a local competition, and get married to a woman who smiled as much as he did, which was just about all the time.

Steven and Andrea Mancini lived with the Magnesses at the tidy, two-story house in the working-class neighborhood where Steven grew up. Father and son played guitar together. Mother and daughter-in-law went shopping together. And every night the four at together at the kitchen table.

``It was harmony,″ Doug Magness said.

And then, in an instant, it was all gone.

Steven and his 28-year-old wife perished along with a cousin in the Feb. 20 nightclub blaze in West Warwick that left 99 people dead.

That night, Steven’s band, Fathead _ named when Andrea teased him about his oversized dome _ had opened for Great White, the rock group whose pyrotechnics started the blaze at The Station. It was the first time Fathead was the opening act for a group with a national following.

The couple’s deaths have nearly taken the life out of the Magnesses. Barbara cannot eat, and Doug cannot sleep. They wake up in the night, look at each other, and cry.

``I’m not of the age to have a child,″ said Barbara, 60. ``So, this is it. This is the end of the family.″

Steven and Andrea knew The Station well. When she wasn’t working in her family’s plant nursery, Andrea took tickets and checked IDs. Steven was a part-time bouncer and had played there several times with others in the band, including Keith Mancini, the raucous 34-year-old bassist he had met at the club and didn’t know at first was his cousin.

Keith saw the engagement as Fathead’s big break.

``You know what? He did good,″ his aunt, Susan Henderson, said as she gazed at the shrine set up for her nephew next to the club’s remains. ``He died with his music. That’s the only positive thing I can say about it.″

The set went great. Fathead left the stage to cheers and raised beers. It had done its job: The crowd was juiced and ready for the main attraction.

The Magnesses did not go to this show. They had seen Steven’s band twice already at The Station. At their age, loud, live music in cramped bars was just too much.

Barbara was watching a recording of the Oprah Winfrey show when one of Andrea’s sisters rang the doorbell just after 11 that night. ``Turn on the news,″ the sister told Barbara. ``There’s been a fire at The Station.″

Barbara flipped to the news.

``It was a like a jolting awakening,″ she said, ``and I knew something was wrong.″

The Magnesses went looking for their son and daughter-in-law, going from hospital to hospital. They waited for someone to call and tell them the two were OK. But their instincts told them otherwise.

They did not learn Andrea was dead until Sunday afternoon, 38 hours after the fire. They learned of Steven’s death around midday Monday when a police officer came to their door.

The Magnesses believe Steven was packing his equipment near the stage when the fire started during Great White’s first song. They think Andrea rushed toward her strapping, ponytailed husband of 15 months, wanting to be by his side and trusting he would muscle her and himself to safety.

Steven had met Andrea through a co-worker employed in the supermarket’s floral section. Steven was immediately smitten. He told his mother: ``She’s so gorgeous. I wish I could get to know her.″

Andrea managed the family’s garden center when it was open in the spring and summer. She had a sunny rapport with customers but was a tough businesswoman with suppliers.

``She had opinions, and she stuck to them,″ said one of her brothers, Peter Jacavone Jr. ``She didn’t take any grief from anyone.″

One night recently, Andrea announced that she and Steven were saving money to buy a house. ``We’re building an apartment for you,″ she told the Magnesses. ``We’re not leaving you behind.″

The Magnesses do not blame anyone for the couple’s death. They said they will not sue.

``An accident is an accident,″ said Doug, a diesel mechanic with a construction company. ``It could happen to anyone.″

Steven and Andrea are buried at a hilltop cemetery in the plots the Magnesses had reserved for themselves.

``I know I’m going to recover. My son wants me to,″ Barbara said. ``But I’ll never be the same. Ever.″

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