Indiana fair remembers stage collapse 1 year later

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by TOM LoBIANCO

Associated Press

Posted on August 13, 2012 at 7:38 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The Indiana State Fair will come to a standstill Monday night to honor the victims of a deadly stage collapse one year ago that prompted sweeping overhauls of the fair's emergency plan and new regulations for temporary stages.

The fair plans to shut down all activities from 8:46 p.m. to 8:50 p.m. to commemorate the seven people killed and dozens injured Aug. 13, 2011, when high winds sent stage rigging crashing onto a crowd of fans awaiting a concert by country duo Sugarland.

"It's going to be a tough day," said Laura Magdziarz of Morocco, Ind., who was injured when the rigging toppled. Her then-3-year-old daughter, Maggie, was also hurt.

Magdziarz said Monday she planned to buy seven pink roses adorned with ribbons featuring the names of the seven who died.

Rides and shuttle buses will stop at 8:30 p.m., and concessions will turn off all music. Fair officials said they anticipated a crowd would gather at a memorial to the victims outside the grandstand.

The collapse spurred key changes at the fair after two months-long investigations found that the stage rigging wasn't strong enough to meet state building codes and that the fair lacked a fully developed emergency plan.

The Indiana State Fair Commission in May hired venue manager David Shaw as chief operating officer to handle day-to-day operations and Jessie Olvera as director of safety and security. A month later, it unanimously approved a 425-page emergency management plan that adopted recommendations made by consultant Witt Associates and formalizing procedures that already were in place but not used the night that the grandstand collapsed. The new plan gave Shaw the responsibility for postponing or canceling events amid threatening conditions or, in his absence, Olvera.

State lawmakers also approved a measure requiring inspections of temporary stages at the site until 2014. They plan to meet next month to study permanent regulations.

Indiana has already paid $5 million to victims of the collapse and has added $6 million to a proposed $7.2 million settlement from stage owner Mid-America Sound Corp. and James Thomas Engineering. That payment, which requires victims to agree not to sue, is pending approval from the two companies.

Lawsuits over the collapse are pending in Indianapolis. A judge has ordered all sides to enter mediation in hopes of reaching a settlement by the end of 2013.

Monday's observance comes a day after five people, including the fair queen, suffered minor injuries when a stagecoach overturned during a performance ahead of a hitch competition in the Pepsi Coliseum. Fair officials evacuated the arena and delayed the competition.

Though the stagecoach incident was a stark reminder of how quickly a fun event can turn dangerous, visitors who stopped by the memorial to the stage collapse victims Monday said they thought the fair was safer now.

"Any (safety) measure they put in place is better than what they had last year," said Kelly Hart, 45, of Indianapolis.

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