INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told hundreds of people who
gathered Monday for a service to remember five people killed when a stage
collapsed at the Indiana State Fair that the tragedy has broken the hearts
of the state’s residents.
Daniels said Saturday’s stage collapse as high winds raked the fairgrounds
was especially tragic because the state fair is “a family reunion of all
Hoosiers,” where farmers and city residents gather for fun.
Many of the people at the service wept and hugged each other as they sat on
picnic benches for the service held under partly sunny skies.
Daniels became emotional as he praised the people who rushed to the stage to
help the injured. “There was a hero every 10 feet on Saturday night,” he
“I cannot tell you how proud I am,” Daniels said, his voice cracking, “to be
the employee of six and half million people like that.”
Wind gusts between 60 and 70 mph toppled the stage where an estimated 12,000
people were waiting to see the country band Sugarland on Saturday night.
About four dozen people, some critically injured, were taken to hospitals.
As the service drew to a close, five youths lined up in front of the stage
holding bouquets of flowers in honor of the dead as the victim’s names were
“Our hearts are broken for those that we have lost, for those we mourn,” the
governor said. “But our hearts are broken likewise for those who work so
very hard for a full year to try to make the Indiana state fair the great
event that it is.”
Indiana’s first lady Cheri Daniels, who presides over fair events each year,
said there are two options when tragedy strikes: to give up or rebuild.
“We have decided that we want to take heart and rebuild,” she said, as the
state fair reopened following a one-day closure.
Daniels ordered flags at the fairgrounds flown at half-staff in honor of the
Four of the victims died at the scene: Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne;
Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah; and
49-year-old Glenn Goodrich of Indianapolis. Nathan Byrd, a 51-year-old
stagehand from Indianapolis who was atop the rigging when it fell, died
Santiago managed programming for the Lesbian Community Care Project at
Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago and was named to the Windy City Times’
“30 Under 30” list in 2007.
Jamal M. Edwards, the center’s president and CEO, 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. Santiago
attended the concert with her partner, Alisha Brennon, who was severely
injured, Edwards said.
Bigjohny had been recently hired to teach seventh grade in Muncie, The
Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reported.
“She was funny, spontaneous. She was just amazing,” said Danielle Stoy, who
attended Manchester College with Bigjohny. She said Bigjohny attended the
concert with another friend, Jennifer Haskell, who also was critically
Daniels has called the accident an “unthinkable tragedy” and said the wind
burst was a “fluke” that no one could have foreseen. Dan McCarthy, chief
meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indiana, said the gust was
far stronger than those in other areas of the fairgrounds.
The seemingly capricious nature of the gust was evident Sunday at the fair,
where crews placed a blue drape around the grandstand to block the view of
the wreckage. A striped tent near the grandstand appeared unscathed, as did
an aluminum trailer about 50 yards across from the grandstand. The Ferris
wheel on the midway also escaped damage.
First Sgt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police said the lack of damage
to structures on the fair’s midway or elsewhere supported the weather
service’s belief that an isolated, significant wind gust caused the rigging
“All of us know without exception in Indiana the weather can change from one
report to another report, and that was the case here,” he said.
Bursten said fair officials had begun preparing in case they needed to
evacuate visitors for the impending storm. Additional state troopers had
been moved to the grandstand to help in the event of an evacuation,
according to the Indiana State Police.
Concert-goers and other witnesses said an announcer warned them of impending
bad weather but gave conflicting accounts of whether emergency sirens at the
Meteorologist John Hendrickson said it’s not unusual for strong winds to
precede a thunderstorm, and that Saturday’s gust might have been channeled
through the stage area by buildings on either side of the dirt track where
the stage fell, at the bottom of the grandstand.
Fair officials said the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety
Administration and state fire marshal’s office were investigating. Bursten
said the investigation could take months.
The owner of Mid-America Sound Corp., which installed the rigging, expressed
sympathy for the families of those killed or injured. Kerry Darrenkamp also
said the Greenfield, Ind.-based company had begun “an independent internal
investigation to understand, to the best of our ability, what happened.”
Mike Zent, of Los Angeles, said the storm instantly transformed what had
been a hot, sunny day.
“Just everything turned black. ... It was really cold, it was like winter,
because I had been sweating all day. Wind blew over the ATM machine,” Zent
He and his girlfriend were behind the grandstand when the heard a noise —
the stage collapse. They began running as the wind buffeted them.
“Women were crying. Children were crying. Men were crying,” he said.
Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland sent a statement to The Associated Press
through her marketing manager, saying she watched video 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.”
Sugarland — Nettles and Kristian Bush — canceled their Sunday show at the
Iowa State Fair.
Indiana is prone to abrupt 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.
Saturday’s accident was the worst at the Indiana fairgrounds since a 1963
explosion at the fairgrounds coliseum killed 74 people attending an ice