Lawmaker pushes for stage inspections after State Fair disaster


An Indiana lawmaker is calling for change and urging new inspections to protect people from accidents like the one at the Indiana State Fair in August.

The renewed push comes after a state report that blamed deficiencies in the stage rigging.

13 Investigates also uncovers why Indiana can't rely on national industry regulations.

State Rep. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) is upholding a promise he made after visiting the site of the collapsed roof structure at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

He has proposed a law requiring state inspections for temporary outdoor stages in Indiana after 13 Investigates uncovered the oversight within days of the tragedy.

"I would hope that there would be quite a few changes in the future, but just for inspections, that is absolutely something we should do right now," the South Bend Democrat told 13 Investigates in the House chambers Friday.

"There were no inspections of this whatsoever," he said, still in disbelief that Indiana does not have a process in place for permits and inspections on state property.

Now on the heels of critical safety violations leveled by state labor investigators, 13 Investigates has found that not even the required industry inspections are taking place. That prompted the Department of Labor to issue a $63,000 fine against Mid-America Sound for what it called "plain indifference" to the rules.

In documents provided to investigators, Jesse Mise, an engineer with James Thomas Engineering, the company that manufactured the roof truss, now admits his engineering "PE seal is not acceptable in Indiana." Yet Mise was the one who provided an engineering report for the stage to Mid-America Sound in 2010.

Mise told investigators he "did not come to Indiana and inspect the structure," but based his calculations for the Sugarland stage on a Rascal Flatts set the company provided.

Mise insists the grandstand structure "has never used cross bracing." But pictures obtained by 13 Investigates clearly show cross bracing on a previous State Fair set. Even a safety note on his own company's website recommended:

"Connect(ing) the towers at the base..and to form an "X" brace between the towers...this will provide total rigidity of the structure...particularly important if operators are used on the lighting truss."

The Sugarland truss included four spot operators. Nathan Byrd, who was one of them, died in the collapse.

Also, Mid-America's lighting director Allen Story told investigators Thomas Engineering erected the structure just one time with Mid-America back in 1995.

They "gave us a layout and a booklet. That is the only training I received," he wrote. Story says now that the structure has been updated, "there are no specific build plans for the structure that he is aware of."

Worse yet, according to Story, national industry standards have been ignored.

"No engineer has ever inspected the structure at any time, of the shows he has ever done...and they never inspect the top because it's 40 feet in the air," he said.

"When you've got something that's not getting the proper investigation, and you don't have any kind of inspections, that seems to be a no brainer for me," said Neizgodski, who hopes this new information will help lawmakers to take action before the session ends.

State Sen. Tim Lanane of Anderson has proposed a similar bill in the Senate that would require Indiana to adopt a permit and inspection system for outdoor temporary stages.