Engineers question cross bracing on State Fair stage


INDIANAPOLIS - Experts here in Indianapolis and across the country are speaking out about the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair Saturday night. Some are calling it a tragedy that didn't have to happen.

Days before its horrific collapse, the main stage at the Indiana State Fair sat bare boned and as a backdrop to Band Day.

Some 60 feet in the air, it's designed to hold more than 50,000 pounds of lights and special effects.

But engineers, inspectors and stage builders across the country, say from what they could see, something might have been amiss.

"The fact that it did go over and pretty much a solid piece before it hit the ground indicated that the horizontal bracing was not in place, or was not adequate," said building inspector, Keith Bentley.

Purdue Engineer Mark Bowman also pointed out the importance of bracing.

"A lot of buildings and structures there's some lateral bracing provided and braced type structures where you have physical horizontal braces. Sometimes in a temporary structure like this you might use cables," he told Eyewitness News.

Robert Wells of Lee Hartman and Associates, a company that also builds stages, pointed out a picture on Mid America Sound's website showing a stage Mid America erected in 2004 at the State Fair. He compared it to the one that collapsed Saturday.

The one built in 2004 has cross bracings around the structure. The 2011 stage appears to have some tethering, but Wells says the stage didn't have much cross bracing.

He writes, "the bracing is designed to stop this very thing from happening. In my industry there is complete outrage. This is something that never should have happened."

"Everyday more errors have been reported, as you will soon see. Things done that people thought were not and maybe things left undone that should have been," said Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The search for answers on site continues.  Tim Marshal, a wind expert with thirty years' experience, was on site Wednesday.

"We are looking at all three. Anchors, braces and connections. We are seeing failures in each location.  We want to go ahead and find out what happened first, second and third," he said.

13 Investigates has asked Mid America Sound to provide more information about the rigging of its stage, which was not inspected by any state agency because no permit was required. But when we went to its offices looking for answers, security at the drive kept us from even going to the door.

Mid America Sound would only say it has done business with the State Fair for more than ten years. It touts a safety record of serving more than 600 venues and 3,500 artists nationwide without incident.

Unlike its set-up at the State Fair, Mid America is required to have a government inspection on city grounds.

"That permit automatically triggers and inspection. So one of our construction team inspectors will actually go out and visit that site and inspect the structure," explained Kate Johnson, with the City's Department of Code Enforcement.

Just this week, the city approved a Limited Duration License for temporary structures with Super Bowl 2012 in mind.

Anyone wanting to put up large stages, band shells, or platforms will have to purchase a license for $139, and submit to a structural inspection.

"To make sure that our residents and our visitors are safe. They can visit an event knowing that the structure they are on or near has been permitted and inspected," Johnson told 13 Investigates.

Gov. Mitch Daniels told Eyewitness News he was surprised there was no certification or inspection process. He says he would support legislation to change that.