Fair collapse victims applaud new bill's efforts


Two victims of the Indiana State Fair stage rigging collapse applaud efforts to require inspections of outdoor temporary stages.

State Senator James Merritt sponsors Senate Bill 273. The bill is still a work in progress, while two independent investigators complete probes into the fatal collapse, but Merritt hopes to get a bare bones bill in place for now.

Bev Wheeler likes that idea. The salesperson suffered hip injuries when the stage collapsed.

"Unfortunately those around me started falling over me and were all desperate to get away from the stage," Wheeler said.

Six months later, she learned the state was not inspected and wasn't required to be. She also learned IOSHA investigators found deficiencies in construction with critical cross supports not in place.

"I'll be honest," she said. "I'm not even certain I ever knew there were no rules. We're going out there for fun and entertainment. We just assumed whatever needs to be done is being done."

Sue Humphrey agrees. Her 17-year-old son was paralyzed in the collapse. He testified at a Statehouse hearing last week on victim compensation. Humphrey wonders why it took so long to require inspections in the first place.

She is reminded of the accident that left Emily Hunt paralyzed and killed her grandmother. Both were passengers on an amusement park train that derailed in 1996. Her father's efforts led to "Emily's Law," which required state inspections of amusements, including State Fair rides.

Humphrey says can't understand why amusements were checked, but not the crowded stage area just a few hundred feet from the amusement Midway.

While Bev Wheeler welcomes required inspections, she says "I don't know any inspections that might have saved us from what actually happened that night."

Wheeler hopes plans to hire a State Fair emergency management officer will help beef up the fair's weather and evacuation procedures.

"Everything from the weather to the structure inspected, I think everyone could do better. But the bottom line is we will do better," Merritt said.