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Indiana State Fair Official Testifies About Deadly Stage Collapse

Country duo Sugarland resisted delaying the start of a concert last August at the Indiana State Fair despite threatening weather that later caused a deadly stage collapse, the fair’s top official testified in a lawsuit against the company that built the stage rigging.

During a Jan. 16 deposition, Indiana State Fair Commission executive director Cindy Hoye testified that a representative for a concert promotion company working with the fair twice approached Sugarland about the fair’s desire to delay the show. But Hoye said the band expressed concerns about how a delay would affect the time lead singer Jennifer Nettles needed to warm up and complicate the band’s travel to its next show.

“They were trying to get to Iowa to play the Iowa State Fair, and so they said they did not want to delay,” Hoye testified as part of a lawsuit filed against Mid-America Sound Corp., which built the roof and rigging used to hold the lights and sound equipment used in the Aug. 13 concert.

The Indiana OSHA issued more than $80,000 in fines to three entities involved with deadly stage collapse at the State Fairgrounds last summer.

The most serious violations were against Mid-America Sound Corp. of Greenfield, which provided the stage rigging and chose the workers to erect it. The company was fined $63,000.

IOSHA fined the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 30 $11,500 and the State Fair $6,300 for the violations.

I was born and raised in a small rural town about 60 miles outside of Indy, and I have seen some crazy weather appear out of nowhere. Storms just like this blow in faster than a heartbeat, as well as tornado funnels drop from the clouds right in front of your eyes.

It is difficult to tell the entire circumstances of the weather here because the footage only show the collapse. How long was the sky menacing? Was it 15 minutes? Was it just a matter of a couple minutes? I would have gotten the hell out of Dodge with the looks of the sky here, but if literally only mere seconds, then there would not have been enough time.

Negligence? It appears there was some negilence with several parties per above. But there are several “what-if’s” here. IF Sugarland had decided to delay the start (which really would have been the wise thing to do), then would the front row fans in particular left? Probably not. IF Mid-America Sound Corp had done more to properly rig the stage, would it still have collapsed? Hard to say. Storms like this do not care about temporary stages. This strength of wind combined with a fast approach at just the right angle, any staging may collapse.

Additionally, our weather alerts have almost evolved into the “boy who cries wolf.” Doplar radar now provides us with ample warning of serious weather, however, I have seen many alerts released where nothing really happened. The storm rather petered out rather than gain strength as the radar first indicated. When I was young, before the days of Doplar, when a warning was issued you listened and took shelter in the basement. Now, you just kind of wander outside and wonder whether it is going to actually increase in magnitude, or fizzle out. It is possible many of the fans and other parties involved felt this way, too. At least up until the sky turned black. It is my understanding that the weather alert was issued only minutes before the actual occurrence, and the sky only turned angry, as we see in the footage, just mere moments before the winds blew in. A crowd that large is going to take more than a few minutes to exit.

What happened was most certainly tragic, and I feel for the families of those killed. But is there not some sense of self-responsibility? And even if anyone wanted to seek shelter, was there enough time, especially considering having a packed crowd to maneuver through? One of my brothers was actually at the fair when this happened. No, he was not at the concert as, trust me, this is NOT his style of music (nor mine, for that matter). But he had enough sense to seek cover. From what he tells, he was on some sort of shuttle when it blew in – which indicates that it came in rapidly. Then sought shelter in one of the livestock barns until it blew over.

Although I believe that Sugarland acted foolishly by not delaying the start. Seriously… would you want to perform in this weather? But weather has it’s own will and power and does not know nor listen to man and their engineering feats. If I was a family member of one of the deceased, it would be natural to want to place blame. But sometimes, there is no one to blame but the weather. And I’m pretty sure the weather is not going to give a hoot nor cough up money for damages.


  1. Having lived in Tornado Alley for 19 years and looking at the sky in that short video, I’m with you… I wouldn’t have remained no matter the situation. That’s rough weather, but without more video to really see what’s going on with the clouds, direction, rotation, etc, it’s hard to say if decisions made were the correct ones. I agree with you though… that stage, and just about any staging, would have gone down in that wind.

  2. This incident could have been prevented, but silly, selfish people were too ignorant to do the right thing… Its sad.

    • I’m just not sure it could have been prevented. But without having been there it’s hard to tell. Storms like that can blow in in just a few minutes. So fast, you do not even have time to ask the person you’re with if you think you should leave. I’ve seen a lot of damage from winds alone that were jaw-dropping. With permanent structures. Not an open structure like this which would catch the gusts blowing in just the right directions and crumble it like a house of cards. By the force of the winds in the video, I do not think the roof would have withstood the winds regardless of added re-inforcements.

      • Yeah that is true, i just meant that maybe the people since they knew something was off could’ve maybe done more to prevent people from getting hurt. It sounds like they knew something was coming and had enough heads up time, but didnt do as much as they could’ve…if that makes sense.

  3. It is such a sad reminder to live each day with gusto and to remember to not only tell those you love how much you love them but to show them!

  4. We had so many storms like that lately. It can be perfectly sunny blue skies and you just see a line of dark black rolling in. Usually it is preceded by a frontline wind. I personally would have seeked some type of shelter at the first glimpse of the cloud rolling in. Money and concert be damned.

    • Oh, I would have, too. But with the volume of people, very few would have been able to get out in time. We both know storms like this can hit within minutes. I’ve been thru a few that when in the basement, it literally sounded like a 747 flying within feet of the roof.

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