Indianapolis, IN (August 15, 2011)--Five people were killed and at least 45 others injured Saturday night when overhead stage rigging collapsed just before a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair.
The victims included four audience members who died at the scene, and Nathan Byrd, 51, a lighting crew member who was taken off life support Sunday morning. Byrd was up on the rigging, adjusting lights, when the stage roof came down.
An estimated 12,000 people were on-hand to see the show at the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand, despite forecasts that called for heavy rain and strong winds. Opening act Sara Bareilles had recently finished her set when the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area at 8:39 PM. An announcement was made at 8:45 that severe weather was moving in, providing instructions on where to find shelter.
While the storm wasn’t expected to arrive until 9:30 or later, a strong, sustained gust of wind hit the area at 8:49, turning draping and video walls on the Grandstand into sails, which led to the collapse. Instantly after the fall, dozens in the crowd raced to free people trapped beneath the structure. Injuries ranged from cuts and scrapes to broken limbs and a reported paralysis.
The staging and audio system (reportedly an L-Acoustics V-Dosc system) were supplied by Mid-America Sound of Greenfield, IN. On Sunday, owner Kerry Darrenkamp released a statement: "This is a devastating tragedy and we want to express our sympathy to the families of those who were killed or injured last night at the State Fair. We have already started an independent internal investigation to understand, to the best of our ability, what happened.” At press time, Darrenkamp planned to attend a memorial service at the Fairgrounds on Monday morning.
The stage was a Super Grid, built for Mid-America Sound by James Thomas Engineering (Knoxville, TN). Cindy Hoye, executive director of the Indiana State Fair, stated at a Sunday news conference, “They are bringing in their engineer out of Tennessee today. In addition to that, the local stage hands are the ones that construct that structure, but it's really premature for me to give you any additional information as the investigation is just starting today.”
Hoye noted that Mid-America had been a vendor for the Fair for 15 years, citing the company’s “extraordinary job providing help for production with our free stages and also our grandstand.” According to the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Mid-America has had no safety violations in the last 18 months.
Speaking at the press conference, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels characterized the event as a “freakish accident" and remarked, “What no one knew, and it's not clear to me at this stage, how anyone could have foreseen a sudden highly localized blast of wind in one place.”
Sunday found organizers, IOSHA workers, fire marshals and others at the scene, beginning to determine what exactly happened, and why. Indiana State Police first sergeant Dave Bursten told local TV station WTHR, “Our investigation is titled a death investigation/accidental. There is nothing to indicate that there is any type of intentional negligence that would rise to a criminal level. That said, we are making the investigation very thorough.” Bursten later added, "What's remarkable about this is virtually throughout the rest of the fairgrounds, the midway particularly, there were no damage to structures there, which is continuing to lead us to believe this was an isolated significant wind gust that resulted in what occurred."
In the wake of the collapse, the Fair was closed Sunday, and made cautious plans to reopen on Monday. Concerts scheduled for later in the week, including shows by Janet Jackson and Train, are still expected to take place, though details and locations are still be worked out at press time. Sugarland and Sara Bareilles cancelled their Sunday night show at the Iowa State Fair, that venue’s website explaining to patrons, “Aside from coping with the magnitude of the accident, the ongoing investigation prevents the band from getting what may remain of their stage equipment.”
The Indiana State Fair event took place just weeks after a similar stage roof collapse at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest in Canada on July 17, injuring dozens. A Cheap Trick concert was abruptly halted, and that show’s roof came down moments later due to a sudden severe windstorm with 60 MPH gusts that blew into the area.