Collapse victims stay away from fairgrounds on anniversary

A plaque remembers those who died in the State Fair stage collapse
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Monday marks one year since the State Fair stage collapse that killed seven people and injured dozens more.

There is no formal ceremony planned to mark the anniversary, but unlike the dedication of a plaque earlier this year, victims and their families were invited and offered tickets. Between legal advice and what is planned, it is unclear how many will actually attend.

When the Fairgrounds go silent Monday evening in tribute to those who died and were injured, Jill and Jaymie Polet will unite near the bronze plaque in memory of their friend Meagan Toothman, one of the seven who died.

Months ago, the mother and daughter returned to Indianapolis to thank the doctors and nurses who put them and their bodies back together.

"Everyone in this room saved my life," Jill Polet said in December.

In June, the dedication of the State Fair memorial brought families back ahead of the anniversary. Some left disappointed that state officials failed to reach out more, yet inspired to see Andrea Vellinga giving while battling to reclaim what she lost.

"I wanted to honor the families that lost their loved ones," Vellinga said.

Vellinga said then she never wanted to attend another State Fair, but would consider coming back for the anniversary. Her attorneys say that won't happen. Vellinga will be miles away when the four minutes of silence is ushered in at 8:46 p.m. to recall the moment terror struck.

Much has changed since that day. Investigations reveal the state failed to prepare and evacuate. The company that owned the stage rigging, Mid America Sound, and Local 30, the union in charge of building it were all cited for safety violations.

"It begins a free-fall type of situation and ultimately collapses," said Scott Nacheman with Thornton Tomasetti.

Structural and procedural investigations found similar problems, specifically, a lack of bracing to support the stage and confusion over who was in charge.

"Hindsight is an incredible teacher," said Indiana State Fair Commission Executive Director Cindy Hoye in April.

The state has since hired a new chief operating officer to make critical calls. State lawmakers adopted a new law requiring statewide outdoor stage inspections for the first time. They also agreed to give the victims of the stage collapse another $6 million on top of the $5 million it handed out back in December.

The state is also allowing Mid America Sound and James Thomas Engineer to add another $7.2 million to the settlement fund for victims. In exchange, those companies cannot be sued by those who accept it.