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R.I. Club Survivors Form Friendships

March 17, 2003

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Lying in a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged shut and severe burns on his hands and back, William Long never felt so alone.

He’d escaped a nightclub fire that claimed nearly 100 lives and injured more than 180 others. Yet the 31-year-old was far from his Las Vegas home and no longer sure of anything, including his own survival.

``At the time, nothing made sense,″ he said.

Then he met fellow fire victim David Malagrino, 36, a bartender and regular at The Station, the West Warwick club that burned in the Feb. 20 fire. He also got to know Bob Sevigny, 41, who wasn’t at the club but showed up at the hospital with magazines for anyone who needed them.

Friendships formed after tragedy spurred both burn victims toward recovery. And Sevigny, a Warwick father of two, found something countless others in Rhode Island have began looking for since the fire: a way to help.

On Sunday, Long was discharged from the hospital to a waiting white limousine hired by Sevigny. He faces months of physical therapy and an uncertain future, uninsured and now unemployed.

For now he’s focused only on recovery and says Malagrino and Sevigny is among the reasons why.

``There’s a reason I’m alive right now,″ he said. ``It makes me smile every day.″

Long managed a band called Trip _ the opening act for the Great White concert that night at the club.

All of the Trip band members escaped the fire without injury and, following interviews with state investigators, quickly left the state without visiting Long in the hospital, he says.

With his fiancee also out of state at first, Long, his face swollen like a pumpkin, hands useless and back aching, needed a friend. In Malagrino, who suffered similar second-degree burns, he found someone who understood the pain of air touching burnt skin, and the uncertainty that comes with having nurses feed you and brush your teeth.

Malagrino had a steady stream of family and friends visit from the beginning and never hesitated to include Long.

``I was trying to picture being in his shoes″ alone, said Malagrino, who hopes to be released this week.

Both men have only hazy memories of the fire. Malagrino recalls being under a pile of people at a doorway, wondering if he’d get out, before a firefighter freed him.

Long hasn’t probed too deeply into how he got out.

``I’ve taken that entire minute and a half of my life and boxed it up,″ he said.

Long remembers Great White guitarist Ty Longley stepping off the stage, grabbing his arm, and saying ``Bill, let’s get out of here.″

Longley was heading toward the front door but Long says he moved toward a rear exit, where there seemed to be fewer people. Longley, he says, followed.

Smoke then enveloped his lungs.

``I coughed, it hurt, I fell to the ground and got pushed and kicked,″ he recalled.

Somehow, Long ended up outside, dazed. Longley died in the fire.

Sevigny was one of his Long’s first visitors.

``He was covered in ointments, wrapped up in all kinds of petroleum on his neck and body,″ Sevigny recalled.

Sevigny’s two children brought cards made by their classmates and candy to cheer Long. He helped the patient eat at first and shared his excitement when he was able to hold a soda can with both hands.

On Sunday, the three men said their goodbyes, promising to meet again.

Long goes so far as to call his hospital stay ``a wonderful experience,″ thanks to his new friends.

``I’m so lucky,″ he said.

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