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Indiana stage builder cited in state fair collapse
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The company that built the stage ahead of last summer's deadly Indiana State Fair collapse appeared to be indifferent to safety standards and fair officials were too slow to order an evacuation of the grounds, the state Department of Labor said Wednesday.
The agency cited Mid-America Sound Corp. with three major safety violations in connection with the collapse of outdoor stage rigging Aug. 13 when a powerful storm swept into the fairgrounds. The stage toppled onto a large crowd of people who had gathered to watch the country duo Sugarland perform, leaving seven people dead and 58 injured.
Stagehand Nathan Byrd was killed when the roof collapsed, along with security guard Glenn Goodrich, who was standing nearby. Officials said the workers' deaths prompted the state investigation.
"The evidence demonstrated that the Mid-America Sound Corp. was aware of the appropriate requirements and demonstrated a plain indifference to complying with those requirements," Labor Commissioner Lori Torres told reporters at the release of an Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration report on the collapse.
The department issued a $63,000 fine against the Greenfield, Ind.-based company.
Mid-America officials said they would issue a statement later Wednesday.
Torres said the OSHA report investigated workplace violations but was not aimed at determining what caused the collapse. She also said Mid-America's "plain indifference" didn't necessarily make them responsible for the disaster.
State officials have hired two out-of-state companies to review the stage collapse and the state's emergency response to the disaster. International engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti is conducting an investigation of the rigging collapse and national emergency planning advisers Witt Associates are reviewing the state's emergency plans and its response to the collapse.
Torres said Indiana State Fair Commission officials didn't have an adequate plan for evacuating the area as a severe thunderstorm packing high winds and lightning approached the fairgrounds.
"Plan or no plan, the wind blew over the stage structure," she said. "It was their duty to evacuate timely."
Torres said the decision to evacuate the grandstand was ultimately up to the fair commission's executive director, Cindy Hoye, according to the fair's emergency plan.
Hoye could not immediately be reached for comment. Questions for the fair commission were referred to Gov. Mitch Daniels' office.
Deputy labor commissioner Jeff Carter, who heads OSHA, said no one person was in charge of the concert scene.
"That is part of the problem," he said.
OSHA issued a $6,300 fine against the State Fair Commission for failing to conduct proper safety evaluations of its concert venues. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 30 also came under fire, accused of five workplace violations.
The report found that the union, not the commission, was the employer of the stagehands who were working Aug. 13 when the stage collapsed. But union attorney Bill Groth called that "absurd" and said the commission controls the fairgrounds and that the union was being made a scapegoat for the mistakes of others.
"Needless to say, Local 30 feels it is being scapegoated by this Administration, whose agents' own gross negligence in failing to vacate the premises in the face of the imminent storm cannot be explained away," Groth said in an email to The Associated Press.
Torres said the agency determined the union was the stagehands' employer because it selected the workers for the job and filed W-2s, workers compensation and other documents, among other factors.
The union was fined $11,500.
Sugarland was not penalized, though the band has been named in some lawsuits over the accident. The agency said the band didn't employ the workers and wasn't responsible for building the stage.
Carter said the union had indicated it would contest the findings and state fair officials had requested a meeting with OSHA officials. Mid -America had not responded, he said.
Torres noted that state inspections of temporary structures such as the stage rigging weren't required at the time of the collapse but that a bill to require such inspections is pending in the state Legislature.
Associated Press writer Tom Davies contributed to this report.
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