By Susan Guyett
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - A stage collapse that killed seven people at last summer's Indiana State Fair resulted from poor communication about an approaching storm that packed high winds and structural problems, according to two consultants' studies released on Thursday.
The huge temporary stage came crashing down August 13 just before the country duo Sugarland was to begin performing, injuring 40 people in addition to killing seven.
Failure to share National Weather Service predictions about an approaching storm, reluctance of the band to delay its performance, and a stage structure too weak to resist the winds' lateral force were cited as factors by the studies commissioned by the state.
The high winds weakened the stage's rigging to the point that the roof fell, according to a report from Scott Nacheman of engineering consultant Thornton Tomasetti.
The Indiana company that constructed the load-bearing roof structure for the stage and the rigging, Mid-America Sound Corporation, did not cooperate with either investigation, but the company has said it clearly stated in its contract that the roofing was not to be used in winds stronger than 25 miles per hour.
At one point, Nacheman said, wind gusts reached 59 miles per hour, shifting low barriers at the base of the structure, and then gravity took over.
Earlier this year, the Indiana Department of Labor levied a fine of $63,000 against Mid-America Sound, for "knowing violations." The International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 30 was fined $11,500, and the State Fair Commission was fined $6,300.
This week, Sugarland members Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush were providing depositions for lawsuits brought by victims of the accident.
The second study, prepared by safety consultant Witt Associates, focused on the policies of State Fair officials and created a timeline.
The National Weather Service had issued predictions of stormy weather approaching the area but the reports were not shared among the major decision makers, the Witt study found.
Representatives of Sugarland twice refused to postpone the show when approached by State Fair officials, the study said. By the time Fair officials were ready to cancel the concert, the rigging had come down.
An "ambiguity of authority" prevailed, summed up State Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacey at a public hearing.
"These investigations were never initiated as a means of placing blame," Lacey said. "Rather, we put ourselves willingly and openly and publicly under the microscope so that we could learn all that we can and apply that learning to avoid a tragedy like August 13 from ever happening again."
(Editing By Andrew Stern and Leslie Adler)