State oversight panel tours fairgrounds


INDIANAPOLIS - A group of Indiana lawmakers on the State Fair Advisory Committee got a closer look at the collapsed stage scaffolding Tuesday. It was their first tour for lawmakers since the deadly stage collapse in August.

The lawmakers charged to make critical funding and policy recommendations for the Indiana State Fair got a first hand look at the grounds, its treasures and its wrecked remains.

"Look right here, you can see the roof collapse from this location," pointed out State Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye, the tour guide.

Hoye was behind the stage when it collapsed August 13th.

Seven people died and 40 others were hospitalized.

"They removed the canvas, the blue canvas," Hoye told the bus observers.

"We're trying to figure out the right thing to do for the people that were injured and that this doesn't happen again," explained Rep. Phyllis Pond, (R-New Haven).

Under a constant drizzle and on a muddy track, the closest the bus would get was the north perimeter, but it was not enough for Rep. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend).

Eyewitness News asked if he was satisfied with the information released to the State Fair Advisory Committee.

After a heavy sign, Niezgodski said, "I was happy to see that there was information."

With a little more thought he added, "I think I would have liked to have seen a better chronological sequence of events."

The timeline could wait, but not this chance to see the site that he and his committee members will grapple with into the coming year.

With our cameras on his heels, he made his way to the west perimeter until he laid eyes on the massive pile of steel.

"It's tragic. All by itself, it's just unbelievable," the lawmaker said, shaking his head in disbelief. "I just think it's terrible. You know, I mean, you can see obviously where there could have been a great loss of life."

Rep. Niezgodski says it's unclear what changes Witt and Associates will recommend. That's the agency Gov. Mitch Daniels hired to investigate the state's preparedness and response.

But Niezgodski says there's no denying a problem 13 Investigates first uncovered.

"There was no system of inspections. I would say whatever comes out of this that some means has to be there that an inspection takes place," he said without hesitation.

Now staring into the face of calamity, Niezgodski says he's willing to be the one to lead the charge from here to make changes to state law.

"I'd be happy to. I'll discuss this with other members of the legislature. That's something at the very least," said Niezgodski.

Legislators will convene in January and are expected to debate removing the state's liability caps, so that victims of the stage collapse can recoup more in damages.

Wednesday, crews will disassemble the roof structure, and move parts to the infield before it's eventually moved to an east side warehouse.

Tort claims

Meantime, more victims from the State Fair tragedy are preparing to file lawsuits against the state in the wake of the stage collapse.

Attorneys for 52-year-old Steven Stover filed paperwork claiming he suffered severe, permanent and disabling injuries from a head injury and multiple fractures of his vertebrae. Stover remains hospitalized from the August stage collapse. He lost sight in one eye and has fractures to his arm and wrist.

His attorney believes Stover's medical expenses will exceed $1 million. The attorney general says 60 claims have been received in hopes of getting a part of the $5 million Indiana Tort Claim Fund.