Southgate, KY Beverly Hills Supper Club Disaster, May 1977
OVER 160 VICTIMS DIE IN SUPPER CLUB FIRE
Southgate, Ky. (UPI) -- Medical examiners today tried to piece together bone fragments and recovery crews dug through the charred, muddy debris of the Beverly Hills Supper Club for more victims of a raging fire which killed at least 160 persons during a holiday weekend stage show.
Pieces of bones and skulls of 33 more victims were recovered Sunday from the ruins of the sprawling "Showplace of the Midwest," which Saturday night turned into a blazing inferno -- the worst fire in America in 35 years.
The club was packed for a performance by singer JOHN DAVIDSON.
Officials said about four more hours of work to remove collapsed roofing and steel girders remained before a final toll would be known. Workers were forced to halt the search at 6 p. m. Sunday because of a driving rainstorm.
Authorities had said earlier that they feared the death toll could reach 400, but Southgate Fire Chief DAVID RIESENBERG said, "I'm optimistic we won't find any more bodies." He said the area of the ruins where the search for bodies is now confined was not one of the worst hit by the fire.
"We have found bits and pieces of bodies burned to a crisp, an arm here, a leg there, but mostly just skulls with everything burned from them," a volunteer worker said Sunday.
DR. FRED STINE, Campbell County coroner said 22 of the bodies are "badly charred" and that it may be three days before identifications are complete.
"Some don't even have heads, so that makes it difficult for dental identification," STINE said. He said the bodies were being embalmed in the basement of a makeshift morgue in an armory in nearby Ft. Thomas.
About 3,500 persons jammed the supper club Saturday night, about 1,100 of them in the plush Cabaret Room to hear singer JOHN DAVIDSON when smoke began pouring into the room. Within minutes flames shot through the dense smoke. Screams of horror when the lights failed helped trigger general panic which authorities said caused the high death toll.
Bodies were stacked three and four deep in doorways.
DAVIDSON'S road manager, DON PETERSON, said the singer had just stepped out of a shower when club employes warned them about the fire.
"He immediately jumped into some clothes and ran out the back door and held the door and dragged people out of the room through the stage door," PETERSON said. But DAVIDSON'S pianist-conductor DOUG HERRO, died in the blaze.
"I just can't ... I don't want to talk about it," DAVIDSON said Sunday as he waited for a plane at the Greater Cincinnati AIrport to fly home to Los Angeles.
The comedy team of JIM TEETER and JIM McDONALD, actually on stage when the fire broke out, was credited with saving many lives by staying on stage and keeping the crowd as calm as possible before patrons bolted for the exits. They made their way to safety.
STINE said he understood the fire started in an oil generator underneath the Zebra Room, another party room in the club.
"When they tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher, it blew flames down the hallway to the Cabaret Room," he said.
It was the worst fire in the United States since 1942 when 491 persons were killed in a fire at the Coconut Grove in Boston. In 1944, a circus tent fire in Hartford, Conn., killed 168.
Kentucky Deputy Fire Marshal TOM WALD said the Beverly Hills Supper CLub, which headlined such performers as FRANK SINATRA and DEAN MARTIN, did not have a sprinkler system, but was not required to have one.
PANICKED CROWD PILES UP IN DOORWAYS
Southgate, Ky. (UPI) -- "They panicked. That about covers it," said Kentucky Deputy State Fire Marshal TOM WALD. "They lost their cool, to put in in the vernacular."
That was the reason, WALD said Sunday, for the high death toll in the fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club.
When the blaze broke out, a capacity Saturday night holiday crowd of about 3,500 packed the huge club to hear singer JOHN DAVIDSON.
"The crowd panicked and a lot of them stacked up in the doorways," WALD said. "You think you will try and stay calm in that kind of situation, but when it happens, it apparently is very easy to panic."
"From what I've been able to piece together, all the night club personnel tried to keep the crowd calm," he said. "But, as soon as smoke started rolling in pretty good, they bolted and headed for the exits. Smoke apparently panics people."