Fingering Pointing Escalates Over Deadly Indiana Stage Collapse

February 17, 2012

Less than two years since the Indiana State Fair stage collapse that killed seven and injured over forty-five others, fingering pointing among those involved has escalated dramatically. The Indiana Occupational Safety And Health Administration recently levied fines against Mid-America Sound Corp, the company charged with erecting the stage, the Indiana Fair Commission, the entity in charge of the venue, and the union that worked the site. Although Mid-America Sound received the largest fine, the company denies any responsibility. Instead, Mid-America Sound blames the Fair Commission, claiming they failed to heed warnings about the stages structural integrity during high winds. The Fair Commission blames the band Sugarland, who was scheduled to perform just before the storm, claiming the band refused to delay their concert despite being told of severe incoming storms. While there is much debate around all who should be blamed, the basic facts about what happened are well established.

On August 13, 2011 at 6:00 PM, the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center issued a "severe thunderstorm watch" for central Indiana, which included the location of the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. The Emergency Alert System bulletin cautioned the storm was capable of producing winds up to 70 MPH. At 8:39 PM, the Indiana State Police say they issued a warning to the crowd in the grandstand suggesting they should take cover because of incoming severe weather. About ten minutes later, strong winds thundered in causing the stage to collapse, resulting in 4 deaths. Over 45 others suffer various personal injuries. Wind gusts exceeded 70 MPH. The stage collapse occurred between live musical performances by Sara Bareilles and Sugarland. Earlier, pop singer Janet Jackson and country band Lady Antebellum cancelled their performances.

Since the stage collapse, lawyers for those injured or who lost loved ones filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Indiana for personal injury and wrongful death. Most of those claims have settled. Another lawsuit had been filed against Sugarland claiming the band negligently refused to delay starting their concert despite being told of impending severe weather.

Just recently, the Indiana Safety And Health Administration issued fines against three entities for their part in the Indiana stage collapse. The largest fine was levied against Mid-America Sound, the company that built the temporary stage, totaling $63,000. The Indiana Safety And Health Administration fined Mid-America Sound Corp for three separate violations for failing to provide appropriate supervision and failing to develop a risk assessment plan.

Mid-America Sound strongly disagreed with the fines and levied their own accusations, assigning blame to the Indiana Fair Commission and Sugarland. According to Mid-America-Sound's spokesperson, "Mid-America Sound was consistent and clear with the Indiana State Fair Commission about the limitations of the temporary roof structure in high winds or severe inclement weather." The spokesperson went on to state "[e]ach year for nearly a decade, we warned the commission, in writing that 'The roof or top shall not be used in high winds and or severe inclement weather. High winds meaning 25 MPH and above.' In the case of the structure used for the Sugarland concert, the threshold was 40 MPH for evacuation." Despite these warnings, the Indiana State Fair Commission, who controlled the venue, refused to postpone the concert and failed to implement an evacuation plan away from the temporary roof structure, according to Mid-America Sound. Regarding Sugarland, Mid-America Sound said the band controlled its own concert and, under that umbrella of control, refused to postpone the concert despite being warned about severe incoming weather.

The Indiana State Fair Commission had its own criticisms against Sugarland. In a recent deposition, Indiana State Fair Commission executive director Cindy Hoye testified that Sugarland was approached, twice, about the fair's request to delay the concert because of bad weather concerns. According to Hoye, the band refused each time, citing concerns about how the delay would impact the time the lead singer's need to warm up and complicate the band's travel to its next show in Iowa.

The Indiana stage collapse is a tragedy that could have easily been avoided. Given the severe incoming storm warnings, the concert should have been delayed and those in charge should have properly evacuated the crowd before the storm hit. In the aftermath of those mistakes, the conduct of the parties involved is not surprising. There is a lot blaming going on but no one is accepting responsibility.

Sources Used:

LA Times, Indiana Stage Collapse Leads To Fines Against Builder, Commission, February 8, 2012.

Rolling Stone Magazine, State of Indiana Settles With Sugarland Stage Collapse Victims, December 20, 2011.

Chicago Tribune, Company: Sugarland Resisted Delaying Indiana Concert Before Stage Collapse, February 9, 2012.

 
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