By: William Bill Hurst
On Saturday, August 13, 2011, a strong wind toppled the a massive rigging and lighting system covering the Indiana State Fair stage causing it to fall onto the crowd at the Sugarland Concert, killing five people and injuring several men, women and children. Many of the injured remain hospitalized Sunday, some with life-threatening injuries. See video of the collapse.
The Fair was cancelled Sunday as officials begin the process of determining what happened and respond to questions raised about whether the tragedy could have been prevented. While Governor Mitch Daniels was “defensive” in his statement that he believed that this was a random act of Mother Nature, a sudden powerful wind gust, that he does not see how anyone could have foreseen. Others question whether State Fair officials and State Police didn’t take this weather warning more seriously and specifically order an evacuation. Concert-goers and other witnesses said an announcer at the concert did warn them of impending bad weather, but gave attendants conflicting accounts of whether there were emergency sirens — or a clear warning before the tragedy. Indeed some fair workers said they never heard any warnings. Groundskeeper Roger Smith stated that “It’s pathetic, it makes me mad. Those lives could have been saved yesterday.”
The stage toppled at 8:49 p.m. A timeline released by the Indiana State Police showed that the National Weather Service indicated as early as 8:00 that a storm with hail and 40 mph winds was expected to hit the fair grounds at 9:15. Meteorologists indicate that it’s not unusual for strong winds to precede a thunderstorm like the one that was proceeding towards Indianapolis and the fairgrounds on Saturday evening. As early as 7:00 p.m. the National Weather Service advised that a thunderstorm would be at the fairgrounds between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. The Weather Service advised that the storm would contain heavy rain, lightning, strong winds and 1” to 2” hail. In areas around the fair grounds proceeding the approaching storm, the Weather Service had been predicting high winds for several hours prior to the collapse.
The cause of this accident is being investigated by Fair Officials, Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and State Fire marshal’s office. The timeline of the weather warning above raises a serious question of why State Fair officials and State Police didn’t take these warnings more seriously and specifically order an evacuation before the storm hit. Apparently around 8:45 p.m., Bob Rich, who is the program and director for the local country music station, took the stage for an announcement to fans about the approaching storm, that the State Police decide as a preliminary warning. Apparently, Rich told the fans that severe weather was moving into the area but many of the fans present at the concert indicated that they understood it might rain and the concert might be delayed, but apparently did not receive information or understand that a severe storm was approaching and that they should leave right away.
Had State Fair officials and Security immediately taken the approach that was taken at Conner Prairie based on these same weather alerts, this tragedy may never had occurred. The same warnings from the National Weather Service caused a different reaction at Conner Prairie, which is about 15 miles north of the State Fair grounds. On Saturday about 7,000 fans gathered for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at Conner Prairie. An MC from a local radio station came out and addressed the crowd, indicating that severe storms were approaching and fans were told they should immediately head back to their vehicles. This warning came at about 8:15 p.m. The announcer indicated that Conner Prairie officials felt that they did not think it was safe for the crowd to remain. He announced repeatedly that “You should return to your cars now”and the crowd dispursed.
This sequence of events in the minutes before the stage rigging collapsed will be one of the issues that the investigating officials will examine. There will be other issues including whether or not the structure that collapse had flaws or other construction defects. No other structures at the fair were damaged by the gust of wind that apparently proceeded the storm. The owner of the Company that provided the rigging, Mid-American Sound Corporation of Greenfield, is also investigating the collapse. It was earlier reported that Mid-America Company did erect the structure but they may have used some of the Indiana state fair employees as laborers. This investigation is scheduled to take several weeks.
Saturday’s accident was the worst at Indiana fair grounds since the 1963 explosion at the fairgrounds coliseum which killed 74 people in attendance.
If you or a loved one was involved in this trudge and you would like to speak with an experienced attorney contact Indianapolis Personal Injury Lawyer, William W. Hurst for a free consultation.