Star's outstanding coverage

Dateline: Mon 29 Aug 2011

Perhaps the only real light shed regarding the Aug. 13 tragedy at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, which so far has claimed seven lives, has come from the Indianapolis Star's excellent covearge.

In particular, John Russell, Tim Evans and Heather Gillers provided riveting, important, and deep stories in the crucial week following the rigging collapse, starting with Tuesday Aug. 16's amazing revelation on Page 1A: "Indiana State Fair's outdoor stage did not require inspection," and followed with an even bigger wollop the next day, Wednesday, Aug. 17: "A question of fair warning; Fair received three days of bad-weather alerts before tragedy." Other stories by Star staffers added nuance and drama to the coverage.

These two stories in particular have nailed to the wall the state's culpability in allowing, even insisting, that the show must go on -- as the newspaper reported, the Midway had shut down, Connor Prairie had dismissed its concert crowd, but the fair honchos calling the shots for the Sugarland event apparently chose money over human lives.

The Aug. 17 weather story includes a detailed timeline of the National Weather Service's warnings, starting at 1 p.m. Saturday (Sugarland was to take stage at 8:45 p.m) and the response from fair officials. Most damning is the failure of fair director Cindy Hoye to heed any and every warning:

"Instead, (at about 8:45 p.m.) the fair's executive director Cindy Hoye, who had been monitoring the approaching storm with State Police Special Operations Commander Brad Weaver, turned to an old friend for help. That person was Bob Richards, 49, operations manager of the four Emmis radio stations in Indianapolis and program director from Hank FM, one of the concert's sponsors.

"Richards said Hoye asked him to make an announcement to the audience waiting for Sugarland to take the stage. He said Hoye told him exactly what to say, and he transcribed it on his cell phone."

The Star printed the transcript of what Hoye dictated to Richards. Richards then gave his little pep talk to the crowd "six minutes after the weather service had issued its severe thunderstorm warning and...four minutes before the stage roof structure collapsed."

Hoye's message to the crowd at no point included warnings of the severe thunderstorm approaching..."We are all hoping for the best....that the weather is going to bypass us. But there is a very good chance that it won't...." Richards then goes on to suggest that IF there is a point where the fair has to stop the show, concert goers should exit and go to one of three locations. Last renarks: "So please get ready, because in just a couple of minutes we're going to try to get Sugarland onstage. Have a great show."

That information, which shows such wanton disregard for the facts as Hoye knew them, coupled with information about the state's total lack of supervision and inspection for its stages and rigging, which the same journalists reported on Tuesday, provide almost everything one needs to know about setting blame for the events that unfolded.

Not an "act of God," or Mother Nature, but very human error and very poor judgment from the people who were supposed to be in charge caused this tragedy. The Star documented all of it, and the paper deserves a prize for its coverage.

 

 

Comments

David [unverified] said:

I think when everything is said and done, and one looks past the puffery and bloviating, simply having an accurate accounting of the weather conditions as they evolved would have lead to a manditory evacuation at around 8:15 PM. Gusts over 70 mph were reported, and if news reports on the limits of the stage's strength are accurate, that is it's limit.

A proper evacuation of both stage, mosh pit and VIP section could have avoided casualties. Letting enthusiasts stay in harm's way after struggling to find their positions and only offering a weather advisory is not a responsible response to the situation.

Again, if news reports were accurate, the stage did what it was supposed to do in case of failure: fall towards the side and not forward into the audience. Had it done so, I have no doubt that the toll would have been higher.

2011-08-29 12:26:25

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Yes they DO deserve kudos for their coverage. Let's see how far they go in the future, when Mitch's miunionstamp-down with pressure, which they will. I don't expect too much from The Star anymore. Hell yesterday's paper took 15 minutes to read, incuding the obits. The Biz Sectioln was a joke--a recycled local article and two wire stories. If that's all I had, I'd give up on the business news.

The Governor and Ms. Hoye tried their damndest to weigh-in with the "Act of God" thing, loudly and clearly, immediately afterr the event. It dind't wash then. But we Hoosiers are practical and respectful folk; the sting of death/injury was still a little pungent, to actively engage in stern criticism.

Daniels and Hoye knew that very basic Hoosier tendency. They boldly exploited it--they sought to fill the airwaves and print media with their distracting messages.

The Star and many others were polite and respectful...but they didn't let go of the basic facts you've reported above. Thankfully.

Because besides being baseline-respectful, Hoosiers also possess an unusual amount of common sense. And the undisputed facts do not pass the blink/grin test.

The sad fact is: this was all about money. The half-million or so that would've have to be refunded if the concert didn't go forward as planned.

I love the Fair and I know it operates on a shoestring. But we've allowed that budget mentality to rule almost everything it seems, even public safety-vs-concert profit/loss.

The plain facts are startling. If I were Ms. Hoye, I'd get a good criminal lawyer. Because we have a decent prosecutor in this county again, and some of these actions could border on criminal malfeasance.

And because Indiana has wratched-up its stern "protect the job creators," we've got pretty tough liability caps for civil lawsuits. And two of those who've died were involved in gay relationships, so under Indiana's ridiculous "Defense of Marriage" law, their surviving spouses cannot claim spousal loss. There is some legal discussion, that the Courts may be the ideal place to overturn that antique law.

2011-08-29 12:39:37

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Whether or not there was negligence in the whole State Fair fiasco, the question remains: was it worthy of front-page coverage day after day after day?

When there are far more serious problems that affect far more Indy residents -- oh, like crime and abandoned houses and political corruption and rampant cronyism and the selling of city assets for short-term gain and....

Sure, seven people died. But that many have perished in homicides since the rigging collapse, eh?

2011-08-29 17:23:32

John Howard [unverified] said:

The most damning evidence had to be the photo I saw of one of those huge concrete barricades. It was marked with a trail of red dashes spray painted on the ground.

That hunk of concrete slid several feet (not surprisingly) under the lateral load from the torn roof flapping in the wind.

To have the supports held up by only gravity, friction and a prayer was stupid and negligent.

2011-08-29 19:20:49

indykjsharp [unverified] said:

Amen, Ms. Cynical. The under-reported story of the week was first reported by the FW Journal Gazette...the Annie E. Casey Foundation rating of the well-being of Indiana's children: 31st... and that one in five live in poverty. FWJG reported on 8/17; the Star gave it a short inside B; then finally 10 days later an article by Shari Rudavsky... unfortunately only about Central Indiana and with a lead about food stamps, which predictably brought the maroons out of the woodwork on the so-called "community forum."

2011-08-29 19:39:42

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Excellent points, indykjsharp.

Twenty percent of Indiana's children living in poverty and I believe it also said that percentage was in danger of being malnourished.

But what the heck, we've always got the Super Bowl, Colts and Pacers to deflect our collective attention spans, right?

Conscience is a lost concept among the conservative elite in Indianapolis and at the State House.

2011-08-29 22:40:25

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Whitebead, I wish I were single.

2011-08-30 04:32:32

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

It's a lost concept among the conservative elite in Washington, DC, too. Sometimes, I am shocked -- just aghast -- at how mean-spirited and uncharitable so many people have become. Compromise is seen as weakness.

Cooperation is seen as political capitulation. Polemic masquerades as principle.

last night I watched the Cheney interview on Dateline and I was overwhelmed with a notion of despair and disgust. What is to become of us when people like that can gain such easy entre' into power?

2011-08-30 08:42:03

Jason [unverified] said:

"When there are far more serious problems that affect far more Indy residents -- oh, like crime and abandoned houses and political corruption and rampant cronyism and the selling of city assets for short-term gain and...."

"The under-reported story of the week was first reported by the FW Journal Gazette...the Annie E. Casey Foundation rating of the well-being of Indiana's children: 31st... and that one in five live in poverty. FWJG reported on 8/17; the Star gave it a short inside B; then finally 10 days later an article by Shari Rudavsky... unfortunately only about Central Indiana and with a lead about food stamps, which predictably brought the maroons out of the woodwork on the so-called "community forum."

Sad? Yes. The Star's supposed to be reporting news, and this isn't news. Society has been this way for, essentially, ever, and it's not going to change. Is it worthy of a blurb or two? Sure, but if you really think that's more newsworthy than the stage collapse, judging by the national news coverage I'd say darn near everybody disagrees.

Also, I'm struggling to understand what sins conservative boogeymen have committed for which there hasn't been reciprocity. Sorry, eyes off the ball for a second.


Truly, the tragedy here is that people died. I understand that State Fair goers are among the types we're more or less allowed to denigrate and stereotype without feeling bad (for those who choose to anyway), but you would be hard pressed to find a group of people exhibiting such unbelievable bravery and fellowship toward their fellow man. It was absolutely incredible to see so many people acting with such selflessness and care toward complete strangers. If anything, I'm surprised there hasn't been more coverage. Looking at previous occurrences of this nature it's a rarity.

2011-08-31 13:32:19

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