Sugarland named as defendant in stage collapse

Jennifer Haskell

INDIANAPOLIS - For the first time since the Indiana State Fair stage collapse, the band that was to perform that night could face a lawsuit.

The country band Sugarland is now showing up on notices for possible lawsuits in the accident that killed seven people and injured 40 others.

Sugarland never took the stage at the Indiana State Fair August 13th. Now, one month later, after wind gusts brought down the stage rigging holding at least 40,000 pounds of lights, the beloved country band that escaped injury is named as a "defendant" in a legal notice sent to the state of Indiana.

"They were in the bunkers in a prayer circle waiting to go on stage. And the tour manager herself held for a few minutes herself because of the weather. And if she hadn't held, everybody would have been on the stage," explained Sugarland's manager the day after the collapse.

22-year-old Jennifer Haskell was in the front row with her best friend Alina BigJohny. Both were crushed. BigJohny died that night, and Haskell passed away six days later.

Now her parents and sister have named at least 15 entities as responsible parties including "the band known as 'Sugarland, and its members, agents and employees."

The tort claim says, "Haskell's injuries and wrongful death were the proximate result of the defendants' gross negligence and/or recklessness."

A week following the tragedy, Sugarland dedicated a moment of silence and song to the injured or those who died.

"In the loss of our set and our instruments and our equipment this set, incredible machine looks very different right now," said lead singer Jennifer Nettles August 18, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Haskell family attorney, James Williams of Muncie, would not talk about its filing, saying, "It is simply a statutory notice at this point of all potentially involved parties."

No lawsuit has been filed, only a notice of what could come as three different teams of professional investigators pour over some of the same findings 13 Investigates discovered, starting with the lack of permits, certifications or inspections of stages by the state.

13 Investigates compared pictures of the Mid-America Sound stage before it collapsed to a truss fortified with cross bracings built several years ago.

Engineers inspecting the wreckage now confirm they are looking at the bracing of the stage.

"Obviously, it's something that we are looking at, but at this time we haven't rendered any opinions on any of the structure," Scott Nacheman, of Thornton Thomasetti told 13 Investigates.

Finally, the State Fair Commission's one-page severe thunderstorm warning policy that failed to include clear evacuation plans for the stage area. It also called for a warning to be read to fans. That didn't happen.

Charles Fisher with Witt & Associates will try to determine why.

"What was the timeline of events and decisions made up to the collapse at 8:49, and how did the actions that were taken contrast to the plans and training that were in place?" said Fisher.

Engineers say it could take up to eight months before the investigation is complete.

We are still awaiting a response from Sugarland.

According to state contracts, the Fair Commission and Sugarland agreed to "mutually determine" if a performance was impossible.

The idea of Sugarland being a defendant has created quite a stir, with many people questioning the validity of any claim of the band's liability.