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FEATURE NEWS


(Matt Kryger/AP)
5 Dead After Indiana State Fair Stage Collapses - Governor: Wind Gust That Fell Ind. Stage A 'Fluke'
Posted: August 13, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Five people were killed and a dozen injured after a stage collapsed during a storm Saturday night at the Indiana State Fair, where the country group Sugarland was set to perform, the Indianapolis Star and WTHR reported.

Strong winds caused the stage rigging for the outdoor concert to collapse at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis. Fans were trapped and injured in the incident shortly before 9 p.m. It happened before the band had taken the stage.

Omar Swank, 43, of Hamilton was at the concert when the stage collapsed.

Swank said he and his wife and two kids, ages 11 and 12, were toward the top of the grandstands, about 100 yards from the stage, when it collapsed.

“There were straight-line winds ahead of the front,” he said. “The winds just came in really quick and the band got off stage. I don’t know if any workers were on the stage when it collapsed, but if there were it would not be good for them.”

Swank, who grew up in Union, said he heard a great deal of noise, mostly from the wind, before the collapse.

“We saw the stage come down, but it fell towards the grandstands so we couldn’t really see anything,” he said.

Swank said some people ran toward the stage to help, but most people were trying to leave the area.

“I was just trying to grab my kids and get out of the grandstands,” he said. “I was trying to keep them from getting trampled.”

Swank said the crowd was hurried but pretty orderly in their exit.

“I don’t know if there’s anything you can really do in that situation,” Swank said. “Mother Nature happens and these things come up.”

Details on the conditions of those injured were not immediately known. Indiana State Police told The Associated Press they were still working to gather information and did not have anything to release yet.

Emergency crews were called to the scene. Workers were setting up a command center to tend to those who were injured.

Thousands of concert-goers were being evacuated to a nearby building because of high winds when the rigging for the stage fell onto the track where some were seated.

“It was like it was in slow motion,” concert-goer Amy Weathers told the Indianapolis Star. “You couldn’t believe it was actually happening.”

Those who were injured were being moved to a tunnel below the stage, the Star reported. A hole was being dug to try to reach those trapped beneath the rigging.

Associated Press photographer Darron Cummings was in the audience attending the concert as a fan shortly before the collapse. He said an announcer gave the crowd instructions on how to evacuate if the weather worsened, but said they hoped to get Sugarland on stage soon.

Cummings said he and his friends went ahead and sought shelter in a nearby barn after seeing the weather radar.

“Then we heard screams. We heard people just come running,” Cummings told the AP.

Witnesses told WTHR that some of the injured were in a VIP section in front of the stage known as the “Sugar Pit.” The witnesses said a wall of dirt, dust, rain and wind came up the main thoroughfare of the fairgrounds just before the collapse.

“Panic kicked in when they seen the dust bowl coming in from the Midway,” concert-goer Darryl Cox told WTHR.

Another person at the concert, Emily Davis, told WTHR that there was lightning and the sky had gotten dark but it wasn’t raining when the wind suddenly toppled the rigging.

“It was horrible, people were running and going crazy,” she said.

Governor: Wind Gust That Fell Ind. Stage A 'Fluke'

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The wind gust that toppled a stage at the Indiana State Fair Saturday night, killing five and injuring dozens of fans waiting for the country band Sugarland to perform, was a "fluke" that no one could have anticipated, the governor and others said Sunday.

The wind was far stronger than that in other areas of the fairgrounds, said Dan McCarthy, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indiana. He estimated the gust at 60 to 70 mph.

Gov. Mitch Daniels said precautions were taken before the storm, but no one could have foreseen such a strong gust focused in one place. Some witnesses have said that while a storm was expected, rain hadn't begun to fall when the wind sent the stage rigging falling into the crowd of terrified fans.

"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.

Four people were killed when the metal scaffolding that holds lights and other stage equipment fell, and a fifth died overnight at a hospital, Indiana State Police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten said. The county coroner's office identified the victims as Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne; Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah; and two Indianapolis residents: 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich and 51-year-old Nathan Byrd. Byrd died overnight.

Forty-five people were taken to hospitals, and some may have gone on their own, Bursten said. Indiana University Health said 12 of the 26 people treated at its hospitals were still there, including three at its children's hospital.

Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles sent a statement to The Associated Press through her manager, saying she watched recaps of the collapse on the news "in horror."

"I am so moved," she said. "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 at the Iowa State Fair.

Concert-goers said opening act Sara Bareilles had finished performing and the crowd was waiting for Sugarland to take the stage when the storm hit just before 9 p.m. They said an announcer alerted them that severe weather was possible and gave instructions on what to do if an evacuation was necessary. But the announcer also said concert organizers hoped the show would go on, and many fans stayed put.

Witnesses said dirt, dust, rain and wind came barreling up the fairground's main thoroughfare minutes later and the stage collapsed.

Jessica Alsman said the towering, metal scaffolding "kind of wobbled at first." Then pandemonium set in as it fell.

"As soon as we saw the wind gust, the wind was in our faces," Alsman said. She and three friends grabbed each other and formed a chain.

"You can't imagine — we just thought it was going to rain or something," Alsman said.

Indiana's position in the Midwest has long made it prone to volatile changes in weather. In April 2006, tornado-force winds hit Indianapolis just after thousands of people left a free outdoor concert by John Mellencamp held as part of the NCAA men's Final Four basketball tournament.

And in May 2004, a tornado touched down south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, delaying the start of the Indianapolis 500 and forcing a nearly two-hour interruption in the race.

Teacher, advocate, daredevil among Ind. victims

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The five people killed in Saturday's stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair included a new teacher to a veteran stagehand. Some came to enjoy the music with friends. For others, Saturday's Sugarland concert was just another job.

Here are their stories:

Nathan Byrd, Indianapolis

A month shy of his 52nd birthday, Nathan Byrd was a veteran stagehand known as a daredevil.

Older brother Randy Byrd, 54, of Indianapolis, said friends and colleagues knew he would fearlessly scale stage rigs and dubbed him

Save-the-Show Nate

because he was always willing to take on risky jobs.

He would push people out of harm's way and take on the more difficult jobs and do the jobs that were higher risks,

Randy Byrd told The Associated Press.

Nathan Byrd had been working as a stagehand for about 20 years and was one of the few experienced stagehands light enough — at roughly 140 pounds — to scale scaffolding and work lighting rigs, his brother said.

The Indianapolis man worked at sites around the city, including Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus. Joshua Lingenfelter, director of marketing for the facility, said Byrd served as spotlight operator for events including concerts and the Butler Ballet's performance of

The Nutcracker.

Randy Byrd told The Indianapolis Star his brother wasn't a country music fan and wasn't looking forward to working the Sugarland show. But he took the job anyway.

He was about 20 feet above the stage running the spotlight when the stage rigging collapsed.

___

Christina Santiago, Chicago

Santiago, 29, managed programming for the Lesbian Community Care Project at Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago.

President and CEO Jamal M. Edwards said she was one of the organization's

brightest stars

and worked to improve the lives of women, especially those who were lesbian, bisexual and transgender. During her six years with the organization, she helped expand the women's health services division and became

a powerful advocate for all LGBT women,

Edwards said in a statement Sunday.

Santiago attended the concert with her partner, Alisha Brennon, who was severely injured, Edwards said.

He said Santiago had received numerous accolades for her work and was named to the Windy City Times'

30 Under 30

list in 2007.

Her passion and leadership for caring for others will be deeply missed,

he said.

Santiago grew up the Bronx, according to media reports in New York City.

Maybe she's with her mother now. Her mother passed away when we were kids,

childhood friend Gabrielle Rivera told WCBS-TV.

___

Alina Bigjohny, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Bigjohny, the daughter of an Armenian immigrant, had just turned 23, and her family was planning a belated birthday celebration for her Sunday. It instead turned into a prayer vigil.

The 2011 Manchester College graduate was recently hired to teach seventh-grade English in Muncie, the Journal-Gazette reported.

There was always a smile on that girl's face,

Arturo Pena told the Journal-Gazette.

She was never angry or anything. Something bad happened, she shook it off. That's the kind of person she was.

Danielle Stoy said she and Bigjohny met their first day at Manchester and became best friends.

She was funny, spontaneous. She was just amazing,

Stoy said.

She always had a smile and she'd do anything for anybody. She loved her family like there was no tomorrow and they were her top priority.

Stoy said Bigjohny attended the concert with another friend, Jennifer Haskell, who was critically injured in the collapse.

She said Sugarland was one of their favorite bands.

They knew every song,

she said.

___

Glenn Goodrich, Indianapolis

Goodrich, 49, was a familiar face in Indianapolis security circles.

The married father of two boys ages 5 and 9 worked a day job for Ike-lite Corp., an underwater camera and lighting equipment. But his mother, Marilyn Goodrich, told The Indianapolis Star he worked events from concerts to Indiana Pacers games to supplement his family's income.

He loved being in that profession,

said his sister, Gloria Barnes, Riverside, Calif.

He had a calling for that where he really liked helping be sure that people were safe.

Goodrich's mother said her son's employer told her that video of Goodrich showed him helping others when the stage came crashing down on fans waiting for Sugarland to perform.

They told me that he saved a lady and a child,

she said.

He pushed them out of the way, and there may have been a third person. They have it on video.

That's typical of Glenn,

Marilyn Goodrich added.

That's what he would have done: tried to help somebody else.

___

Tammy Vandam, Wanatah, Ind.

Vandam, 42, got tickets to see one of her favorite bands as a birthday present, her brother Earl Pittman Jr., told The Indianapolis Star.

Vandam, a homemaker and mother to one daughter, grew up in Valparaiso and once owned a disc jockey business there. She'd recently completed online classes to get a job as a medical coder, Pittman said.

He said his sister often posted supportive comments when she saw online obituaries and always looked for ways to comfort those who were hurting.

She was a very loving and caring person, and she'd give you the shirt off her back if you needed it,

Pittman said.

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