- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As the Indiana State Fair reopened after a deadly collapse of a concert stage, questions lingered about the structure’s safety, why fans weren’t evacuated as a storm moved in and whether anything could have been done to prevent the incident.

State fair officials have not said whether the stage and rigging were inspected before 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.

Saturday night’s accident happened 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 duo Sugarland.

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.”

The fair reopened Monday with a memorial service to honor the victims of the collapse. The fair also canceled two of its top-billed concerts scheduled for the same stage — a Janet Jackson performance on Wednesday and a Lady Antebellum show on Friday.

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.

Mr. Klotz said fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye and Indiana State Police Capt. Brad Weaver made the decision to evacuate the grandstand within two or three minutes of the bad weather announcement and that they were headed to the stage to order an evacuation when it collapsed.

“The decision was made to make it a mandatory evacuation, and we never got to the microphone,” Mr. Klotz said.

Ms. Hoye narrowly missed being caught in the collapse and credited Capt. Weaver with saving her life, Mr. Klotz said.

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