Indiana State Fair hires engineering firm to conduct collapse investigation

Andre Lacy, Indiana State Fair Commission chairman

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana State Fair officials announced details Tuesday on the investigation into Saturday's stage collapse. An international engineering firm will conduct the fair's investigation.

Five people died and over 40 were injured when rigging collapsed at the Sugarland concert. An investigation involving seven different agencies is underway.

"Our goal is to learn everything we can about why this tragedy occurred. We won't leave any question unanswered," said Andre Lacy, Indiana State Fair Commission chairman.

Lacy said the fair would hire Thornton Tomasetti, Inc., an engineering firm, to conduct the State Fair's investigation into the accident.

The company will review the structure of the stage, the original structure design, drawings for the stage system, rigging and equipment loading. They will also coordinate with the investigators from other entities involved, including Mid-America Sound Corp., Sugarland and the stagehand union.

Thornton Tomasetti will release a report with findings and recommendations, but Lacy said that would take time. The fair commission will make those findings public.

"We know everyone is eager for answers. We don't have them. We won't speculate and it's going to take time to reach a conclusion," Lacy said. "I can't tell you how we're going to go about it at this point."

Thornton Tomasetti has "extensive experience" in the "design and analysis of stage rigging, arenas and temporary structures both in the design phase as well as during post-collapse investigation," said Scott Nacheman, vice president at Thornton Tomasetti.

Nacheman said his firm has performed this role dozens of times for public and private entities, from small-scale collapses to large-scale building collapses and structural failures. Thornton Tomasetti worked with the City of New York after 9/11 to coordinate investigative and site safety work. The company also worked on the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

Nacheman said the fair commission contacted them early Sunday, and Tuesday was the first day of their investigation. He said his team is collecting data from the field and existing documents, including building design, manufacturer's information and third-party interviews.

"Looking at the actual components, how it was constructed, how it conforms to the original design or not, determine the cause of this very tragic failure," Nacheman said of his company's role in the investigation.

It is unclear if the fair will look at bringing in an outside investigator to look at why decisions to evacuate the grandstand were not made earlier.

"We had three thunderstorms that were very similar to the one we experienced when this tragedy occurred just the week before. We followed our protocol," said fair spokesman Andy Klotz.

But Saturday's storm was different. An undetectable wind gust, he says, arrived ahead of the storm.

"We were following our protocol very directly. It was working. It was a freakish act of God and I don't know how it could have been prevented," Klotz said.

The fair says it revised its one-page severe weather policy just this year.

"We will take a look at everything we have in our policy to refine it to avoid this again," Klotz added.

Fair fans said this would be a good idea.

"An extended warning is always a good thing. It definitely wouldn't hurt," said one visitor.

"With what happened Saturday, I expect we would be getting a more timely warning. Learn from tragedy," said another.

An in-depth, hands-on evaluation will also be conducted.