Entertainment

Safety issues raised in Indiana stage collapse

Nathan Byrd was a daredevil, a wiry stagehand who would take 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 with a memorial service to honor the victims of the collapse, investigators and the families of the dead and injured were still seeking answers: Was the structure safe? Why were the thousands of fans not evacuated? Could anything have been done to prevent the tragedy?

Responsibility debated

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 said it didn't have the authority.

"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.

Fair officials said the stage that collapsed is erected at the start of the fair each year to provide a framework on which performers can add their own lights or other features. The roof can be raised or lowered based on the act.

4th stage accident since July

Saturday's accident was at least the fourth stage accident since the start of July. Earlier this month, wind blew over a lighting rig at a music festival in Tulsa, Okla., and lightning toppled a stage under assembly near Quebec City. That followed a summer gale that toppled a stage in July at a music festival in Ottawa, Canada, where the band Cheap Trick was performing. Three people were hospitalized.

The owner of the company that installed the rigging in Indianapolis expressed sympathy for the families of those killed or injured. The AP left a phone message seeking comment from Mid-American S9ound Corp.

Bill Gorlin, vice president of McLaren Engineering Group's Entertainment Division, has spent roughly 15 years engineering high-end shows from Super Bowl performances to Lady Gaga concerts.

Gorlin said he is trying to get states and localities to adopt standards that would set building codes for how much temporary structures can handle. Factors such as wind-load - how much a stage can handle before it is blown over - should be accounted for, he said.

  Comments