Review finds confusion before Indiana State Fair stage collapse - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Review finds confusion before Indiana State Fair stage collapse

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Charlie Fisher, Witt Associates Charlie Fisher, Witt Associates
INDIANAPOLIS -

A review of the Indiana State Fair's emergency plans determined that "an ambiguity of authority" resulted in confusion and uncertainty as officials discussed whether to postpone a concert just before strong winds blew stage rigging onto waiting fans.

The stage rigging collapse during last summer's fair killed seven people and injured dozens of others.

Charlie Fisher of Washington-based Witt Associates told the state fair commission Thursday that the fair's overall state of preparedness was not adequate for an event of its size and scope. He says the emergency response plan and procedures were not fully developed, and the plans weren't used ahead of the Aug. 13 collapse.

A separate report detailed structural problems with the stage itself.

Witt Associates looked at three key issues: the state of preparedness and plans at the Indiana State Fair Commission - including emergency management and code enforcement; the events leading up to the stage collapse Aug. 13 and how they compared to the plans that were in place; the response to the collapse and how they compared to plans in place.

Witt Associates interviewed over 100 people in the course of their investigation, and Fisher said State Fair Commission staff in particular were very cooperative, along with the vast majority of those interviewed.

Mid America Sound, which was responsible for building the stage, was a major exception, Fisher said.

"As you know, Mid America Sound counsel are out of state taking depositions of Jennifer Nettles today and Kristian Bush tomorrow. Once they return and have a chance to carefully review the reports, we will evaluate what, if any, public statements are appropriate," said Myra Borshoff Cook, a spokesperson for Mid America Sound.

Although the tour manager for Sugarland spoke to Witt Associates, their stage manager did not. "We had access to a limited number of the Local 30 personnel," Fisher said.

Witt Associates Vice President Ken Mallette gave a detailed timeline of events leading up to the storm that eventually brought down the stage that night.

Because of the potential for severe weather, Mallette said, State Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye called for an 8:00 pm meeting in the production trailer to discuss the timing of the show. No member of any public safety agency attended the meeting, Mallette said.

Hoye discussed a possible delay for the Sugarland concert with her staff. She asked Eric Millby, liaison with the fair commission, to speak with Helen Rollins, Sugarland's tour manager.

Rollins allegedly said it was only rain. "We can play."

Investigators say in the end, it was off-duty State Trooper Brad Weaver who insisted on the evacuation. By the time he convinced Hoye to make the announcement, it was too late.

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