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Associated Press
Friends and family of Andrea Vellinga, of Pendleton, bow their heads during a moment of silence to remember the stage collapse victims.

Fair remembers victims one year later

Associated Press
Two friends hug in front of a plaque honoring the seven killed last year when stage rigging collapsed at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis.

– The Indiana State Fair came 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 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 strong winds sent stage rigging crashing onto a crowd of fans awaiting a concert by country duo Sugarland.

Crystalyn Huegen, 37, a former Indianapolis resident now living in Bartelso, Ill., was injured when the rigging toppled. She said she was attending Monday’s event for “closure.”

“Today’s my alive day,” said Huegen, who spent hours at the fairgrounds Monday handing out flowers and talking to others who were also at the concert.

Amusement rides and shuttle buses stopped at 8:30 p.m., and concessions turned off all music as about 300 people gathered at a memorial to the victims outside the grandstand. The names of the seven people killed were read over a loud speaker.

Greg Johnson, 55, of Greenwood, was at last year’s concert for his birthday. He said he has become friends with other fans who were also there.

“There’s something about that that makes you want to see these people. It takes you back to a sense of normalcy,” said Johnson.

Huegen said a woman she was standing next to before last year’s concert was to begin was killed in the collapse. “It’s rough. You don’t know why who made it through and who didn’t.”

The collapse spurred key changes at the fair after two 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 is pending approval from the two companies.

Monday’s observance came 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 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.