Judge: Preserve Stage Wreckage

An Indiana judge ordered the state on Tuesday to preserve the wreckage from a stage collapse at the State Fair that killed seven people, after an attorney for the estate of one victim said he didn’t think the state could be trusted.

LaPorte County Judge Thomas Alevizos said in his two-page ruling Tuesday afternoon that he was issuing a “rather limited” preliminary injunction directing the state to follow the protocols put forth by the engineering firm the state has hired to investigate the collapse, in which strong winds toppled the stage onto a crowd on Aug. 13 as they waited for country band Sugarland to perform.

Alevizos questioned during the hearing whether such an order was necessary, saying they were not common.

Paul Mullin, an attorney representing the state and the State Fair Commission, said the order wasn’t needed because engineering firm Thornton-Tomasetti had already outlined how it was going to handle the investigation. He also argued that if the inquiry was halted for 10 days some evidence could be destroyed by the weather.

Attorney Kenneth Allen, who has filed lawsuits on behalf of the estate of Tammy VanDam, 42, of Wanatah, who died in the collapse, and Beth Urschel, 49, who was VanDam’s life partner, argued that without the order, plaintiffs would have no recourse if the state was later found to have destroyed evidence.

“For the wrongdoer to be in charge of the evidence of the wrongdoing is a manifest injustice,” Allen said.

The judge ordered the state to follow Thornton-Tomasetti’s “failure investigation site protocol,” which describes security at the site and who can have access to it. It also says that materials testing will be conducted by an independent laboratory.

Alevizos rejected a request that the state be order to preserve all emails, 911 calls and other evidence that could be destroyed, saying existing discovery rules should cover that.

The judge also criticized Allen for saying he was seeking $50 million in the lawsuit, saying local court rules stipulate that no damage amounts be listed.

“It seems to me it was all part of a publicity stunt and I wonder if I’m being used for a publicity stunt,” Alevizos said.

Allen cited the accident as proof that state officials couldn’t be trusted to do the right thing, saying they should have evacuated the crowd more than an hour before the accident because the National Weather Service was forecasting a storm was on the way.

“The lightning alone should have been enough to evacuate and they did nothing,” he said.

Mullin and concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment Inc. told Alevizos they were seeking to have the case moved. The state wants the case heard in Marion County, because that’s where the accident occurred, while Live Nation wants it moved to Hancock County, which neighbors Marion County. Live Nation didn’t specify a reason.

Alevizos gave Allen a week to respond to the motions.

The hearing followed other legal action over the state fair tragedy. Former Marion County prosecutor Carl Brizzi filed a notice Monday with the state seeking damages for the family of 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich of Indianapolis, a security guard killed by the collapse.

Indianapolis law firm Cohen & Malad is seeking class-action status for a lawsuit filed Monday in Marion County Superior Court against the state and companies involved in putting on the concert. The suit names as a plaintiff Angela Fischer of Indianapolis, who it says was emotionally traumatized by the accident.

“The Attorney General’s Office will review this complaint with our client and will respond in court at the appropriate time,” agency spokesman Bryan Corbin said in an email. The attorney general defends the state from lawsuits.

The other defendants had no comment or didn’t return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday.