Indianapolis News and Headlines State Fair Tragedy


2011: Fifth person dies after Indiana State Fair stage collapse

Posted at 12:21 PM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 16:16:22-04

Editors Note: This story was originally published on Aug. 12, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - A fifth person has died after a stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair that injured 45 people during a severe thunderstorm on Saturday, August 13, 2011.

At a Sunday morning news conference, Indiana State Police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten confirmed that four people were pronounced dead shortly after the collapse and that another died early Sunday.

The victims were identified as Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah; Glenn Goodrich, 49, of Indianapolis; Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne; Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; and Nathan Byrd, 51, of Indianapolis, who died early Sunday at Methodist Hospital.

The representative with the local stage-hands union confirmed that Byrd was among the spotlight operators that were up in the rigging when the stage collapsed.

Bursten said the injuries to some other victims are so severe that the death toll could rise. He did not know how many of the victims were fans and how many were crew members.

The collapse happened about 8:50 p.m. as Sugarland, a country music act, was preparing to perform on the fair's main stage.

The National Weather Service said winds estimated at 60 to 70 mph buffeted the stage ahead of a line of severe thunderstorms. A severe thunderstorm warning had been issued for Marion County before the collapse.

"It really wasn't the issue of the weather as it was with the high gust of wind," Bursten said. "What's remarkable about this is virtually throughout the rest of the fairgrounds, the midway particularly, there was no damage to structures, which is leading us to believe that this was an isolated, significant wind gust."

David Lindquist, a reporter for the Indianapolis Star who was there to cover the concert, told WRTV that an announcement was made that weather was moving in about two minutes before the winds kicked up, but those in front of the stage had little time to get out of the weather, if they wanted to do so.

"There is an evacuation plan that is prepared. There were preparations in progress in anticipation of a severe storm arriving around 9:15," Bursten said. "Personnel were being put in place for an evacuation, if that were deemed necessary."

Indiana State Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye said Sunday that the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the contractor responsible for temporary structure, Greenfield-based Mid-America Sound Corp., and that a company engineer from Tennessee was coming to the collapse scene.

"Mid-America has been a vendor for at least 10, 15 years here. They have done an extraordinary job of providing help with production of our free stages and also our grandstand," said Hoye, who was backstage at the time of the collapse. "I have a great deal of confidence in them."

Mid-America owner Kerry Darrenkamp released a statement Sunday afternoon.

“This is a devastating tragedy, and we want to express our sympathy to the families of those who were killed or injured last night at the State Fair," the statement read. "We have already started an independent internal investigation to understand, to the best of our ability what happened.”

Gov. Mitch Daniels called the collapse a "freakish accident" and praised the response as instantaneous and highly professional.

"Individual Hoosiers ran to the trouble, not from the trouble, by the hundreds, offering, in many cases, their own professional skills," he said, choking up. "It's the character that we associate with our state. People don't have to do paid to do it."

An on-site emergency center was set up at the fairgrounds immediately after the collapse. Other people at the concert converged on the collapsed stage in the immediate aftermath, trying to pull the injured from beneath the mangled wreckage.

"After the stage fell, it was complete chaos. Everyone had froze," said Jason Scofield, who was at the concert. "There was hundreds of people trying to lift the front of the stage up."

People ran to escape the collapse, but they tripped over each other as the stage came down, another witness told 6News.

"It was very scary, but I'm very fortunate I escaped with minor injuries," a 14-year-old victim said. "There was people underneath the stage trying to get out. The stage hit me. It was like a scene from a movie. It just happened so fast."

The Indiana State Fair canceled events for Sunday and planned to reopen on Monday at 8 a.m. with a special ceremony at 9 a.m. remembering those who died and were hurt. It was not immediately known what will happen with concerts scheduled in the coming days.

"It's a very sad day at the state fair and our hearts are breaking," Hoye said.

"Our thoughts, prayers and assistance go out to the families impacted by the tragedy. We continue to be grateful for the performance of our first responders and the instant reflex of Hoosiers helping Hoosiers," said Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, who also serves as Indiana's secretary of agriculture.

Officials asked anyone worried about a loved one they haven't heard from after the stage collapse to contact the American Red Cross, which opened its headquarters on East 10th Street in Indianapolis. People trying to get in touch with loved ones can call the Red Cross at 317-684-4305.

Those who left their vehicles at the fairgrounds will be allowed to retrieve them with a security escort Sunday. They were instructed to come to Gate 3 or 16.

Officials urged people who were at the concert and weren't injured to update their social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, to cut down on calls to authorities from concerned friends and loved ones.

Sugarland posted this message on the band's Facebook wall:

"You may see on the news that our stage collapsed tonight. We are all right. We are praying for our fans, and for the people of Indianapolis," the post read. "We hope you will join us. They need your strength."

Sara Bareilles, the opening act at the concert at the fairgrounds Saturday night, posted on Twitter, "I'm speechless and feel so helpless. Please send love and prayers to Indianapolis tonight. My heart aches for the lives lost #indyiloveu."

Train, a rock band set to perform with Maroon 5 at the fairgrounds Thursday, posted condolences on its Twitter page: "Indianapolis, we are so sorry that you are suffering right now. We are sending all our love and good wishes. Be there soon. Hoping to help."

ISP and Marion County authorities will lead an investigation of what led to the accident.