Ind. fairgoers shake off shadow of stage collapse
A memorial to the seven killed in the Aug. 13, 2011 stage collapse during a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair, goes virtually unnoticed by fair visitors on opening day of the 2012 run of the State Fair in Indianapolis, Aug. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Grief over a deadly stage collapse gave way to excitement over animal exhibits and deep-fried bubblegum Friday as thousands of people poured into an Indiana State Fair trying to bounce back from its most trying year.
Visitors bustled from rides to food stands, with only a few pausing to read the seven names inscribed on a plaque that serves as a memorial to those killed last August while waiting for the country duo Sugarland to perform.
The strong early attendance was a good sign for fair officials who hope this year's event will help heal emotions and put the fair back on sound financial footing. Revenue and attendance plummeted last year after the stage collapse, and many questioned whether the event often likened to a family reunion would ever be the same.
Deanna Phipps, 35, of Kokomo, Ind., went to the fair with her husband, Les, to watch their 14-year-old daughter march in the Kokomo High School color guard. She stopped at the memorial to the victims but clearly was ready to move on.
"I think they did the best they could," Phipps said of fair officials. "You would never think that (such an accident) would happen."
The Aug. 31, 2011, collapse occurred when high winds sent stage rigging plunging onto fans awaiting the Sugarland concert. The deaths and dozens of injuries sparked months of investigations and lawsuits amid questions about why the show wasn't canceled or postponed. Fair officials made big changes to their safety procedures and changed the organization's management structure. Lawmakers passed a bill requiring state inspections of such temporary structures.
A visitor to the Indiana State Fair on opening day sends a text on his phone beside the memorial to the seven killed in the Aug. 13, 2011 stage collapse during a Sugarland concert at the fair in Indianapolis, Aug. 3, 2012. The memorial was virtually unnoticed by fair visitors. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Some fair visitors, however, said concertgoers shouldn't have counted on officials to tell them when it wasn't safe to stay.
"People just need to use common sense," said Verlena Jones, 82, of Monticello, Ind., who came to the fair with her husband John, 76. "If it looks like it's going to storm, get the heck out of there."
But even fairgoers focused on moving forward will feel the impact of last year's collapse.