- Associated Press - Monday, August 15, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Nathan Byrd was known as a daredevil, a wiry stagehand who would take on jobs no one else wanted. But one thing scared him: the quality of the canvas roof covering the stage at the Indiana State Fair.

“He said it scared the crap out of him all the time,” said Randy Byrd, his older brother.

Byrd was working 20 feet above the stage Saturday night when a wind gust estimated at 60 to 70 mph toppled the roof and the metal scaffolding holding lights and other equipment. The stage collapsed onto a crowd of concert-goers awaiting a show by the country group Sugarland.

Byrd and four others were killed. Twenty-five people remained hospitalized Monday.


As the fair reopened Monday, investigators and the families of the dead and injured were still seeking answers to hard questions: Was the structure safe? Why were the thousands of fans not evacuated? Could anything have been done to prevent the tragedy?

State fair officials have not said whether the stage and rigging were inspected prior to Saturday’s show. Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said initially that the state fire marshal’s office was responsible for inspections, but he backtracked Monday, saying he wasn’t sure whose job it is.

A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said neither the fire marshal nor Homeland Security officials conduct inspections. And the city does not have the authority to inspect items on state property.

“We do have our own requirements within the city for temporary structures, and we do have our own permitting requirements,” said Kate Johnson, spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement. “But in this situation, we don’t have that authority because it’s state-owned property.”

As they investigate, inspectors for the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be looking at the weather and any potential structural or design flaws in the stage, among other things, experts said.

Another emerging issue is whether fair organizers responded quickly enough to forecasts of an approaching storm, especially since a different concert nearby was canceled because of the weather.

Just 15 miles north in the suburb of Fishers, about 6,700 people attending a performance by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra were evacuated Saturday from the Conner Prairie Amphitheater.

Tom Ramsey, the orchestra’s vice president and general manager, said the group reviews information from a private weather company and consults with the National Weather Service, with a goal of giving patrons at least 30 minutes to get to their vehicles if bad weather threatens.

“We saw a storm that contained lightning dip south a little bit. Once we saw that, I made the decision to stop the concert and send everyone to their cars,” he said.

At the fairgrounds, concert-goers and other witnesses said an announcer warned them of impending bad weather, but there were no warnings to clear the area.

Sugarland tour manager Hellen Rollens decided to hold the band backstage. Manager Gail Gellman said others felt it was safe to go on stage, but Rollens ultimately acted on her intuition.

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