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Collapsed Indiana fair stage rigging at Sugarland concert not built to code, report finds

Matt Kryger / The Star via AP file

The overhead stage rigging collapses into the crowd in front of the stage at the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand at the Indiana State Fair. The collapse occurred before Sugarland took the stage.

Wind-toppled stage rigging that collapsed on fans waiting for the band Sugarland to perform at the Indiana State Fair last summer, killing seven and injuring dozens, was not strong enough to meet state building codes, according to a report issued Thursday.

A separate report released Thursday also blamed inadequate emergency preparedness and “an ambiguity of authority” for resulting confusion and uncertainty as officials discussed possibly postponing the concert just before wind gusts blew over the rigging, NBC station WTHR reported.

Indiana State Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacy said that the fair’s executive director Cindy Hoye, who the commission said can keep her job, wanted to delay the concert but Sugarland representatives resisted, the Indianapolis Star reported. Lacy quoted a band representative as saying, "It’s only rain; we can play," the newspaper reported.

The fair commission ordered the stage structure and emergency-preparedness reports after the Aug. 13 accident and held a hearing on them Thursday, when they were released.

Scott Nacheman, of the New York-based engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, told the commission that the stage’s metal rigging structure did not meet requirements that it withstand wind gusts of 68 mph. Gusts reached an estimated 59 mph when the rigging collapsed, he said.

Charlie Fisher of Washington, D.C.-based Witt Associates said the fair's overall state of preparedness was not adequate for an event of its size and scope. The emergency response plan and procedures were not fully developed, and the plans weren't used ahead of the collapse, he said, according to local media reports.

Witt Associates interviewed over 100 people in its investigation.

Mid America Sound, which was responsible for building the stage, was a major exception.

Although the tour manager for Sugarland spoke to Witt Associates, their stage manager did not. "We had access to a limited number of the Local 30 personnel," Fisher said.

An unexpectedly strong storm rolled in during the fair, blowing down the stage rigging just before country duo Sugarland was to perform at the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against Sugarland and companies involved with building the stage. Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration in February issued $80,000 in fines, citing lack of emergency preparation and a failure to adequately build and inspect the stage rigging.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Thursday he will share with other states the findings of reports analyzing the causes and response to the stage collapse. Indiana will host a national meeting on safety standards for outdoor temporary structures later this month in Indianapolis.

The Fair Commission, following recommendations in the new reports, said it will hire a chief operations officer to oversee public safety.

Also Thursday, Sugarland issued a statement denying that they're trying to avoid questions about the collapse, WTHR reported.

Performers Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush issued the statement shortly before Nettles was scheduled to give a deposition in Charleston, W. Va., in response to lawsuits arising from the accident.  Sugarland spokesman Allan Meyer said Bush is scheduled to give his deposition Friday. The Sugarland statement:

"In all the back-and-forth between the lawyers, the suggestion's been made that we've somehow been trying to avoid having to answer questions about last summer's terrible tragedy. This is simply not true. There is no one who wants to get to the bottom of what happened more than we do, which is why we're ready, willing, and able to give these depositions today and tomorrow. The judge has put limits on what can be discussed, but within those limits, we intend to be as honest and open as we can. We want all the facts to come out, not only for the sake of all the victims and their loved ones, but also so we can make sure that nothing like this ever happens again."

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