Could the Sugarland Stage Collapse Have Been Prevented?

| by Michael Allen

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said that the collapsing stage disaster this weekend at the Indiana State Fair, which killed 5 and injured 45 more, was a "fluke" that no one could have anticipated: "This is the finest event of its kind in America, this is the finest one we've ever had, and this desperately sad, as far as I can tell fluke event doesn't change that."

Daniels said precautions were taken before the storm and that no one could have predicted such a strong gust on the stage.

However, a timeline released by Indiana State Police questions that statement.

The timeline shows that the Indiana fair staff contacted the National Weather Service four times between 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The weather service said at 8 p.m. that a storm with hail and 40 mph winds was due to hit the fairgrounds at 9:15 p.m. and the fair staff began making evacuation plans.

Concertgoers were waiting for Sugarland to take the stage when an announcer told them that severe weather was possible and gave them instructions on what to do if an evacuation was necessary. The announcer said concert organizers hoped the concert would continue and many fans remained.

One of those fans, Dr. Dean Silas, said in a phone interview that he was seated in the grandstand and reached the damaged area within five minutes.  He recalled that some concertgoers died immediately in the tragedy. He saw three bodies already covered with plastic.

Silas added that it took 20 to 25 minutes to free those who were trapped. He and others carried some of the injured on makeshift stretchers to a triage area under the grandstand. He estimates that it was 10 minutes before the first ambulances arrived.

Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles sent a statement to The Associated Press through her manager: "I am so moved. Moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones. Moved by the pain of those who were injured and the fear of their families. Moved by the great heroism as I watched so many brave Indianapolis fans actually run toward the stage to try and help lift and rescue those injured. Moved by the quickness and organization of the emergency workers who set up the triage and tended to the injured."

Nettles and Kristian Bush, who perform as Sugarland, canceled their Sunday show next door at the Iowa State Fair and their manager Jason Owen referred questions about the accident to fair officials, saying in an email, "it was their stage and lighting rigs so it wouldn't be right for us to comment."

Indiana State Fair director Cindy Hoye said it was too soon to speculate who was responsible for the stage and its rigging, but she had confidence in Mid-America, the company that owns the stage. Mid-America did not respond to messages left Sunday.