Seventh Victim of Indiana State Fair Stage Crash Dies

At least four dozen others were injured.

August 19, 2011, 12:48 PM

Aug. 22, 2011 -- Meagan Toothman, a 24-year-old high school cheerleading coach, became the seventh person to die from injuries suffered when a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 13, according to the Associated Press.

Indiana State Police said Toothman died Sunday night. Toothman was the head cheerleading coach at Turpin High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

At least four dozen others were injured when the stage crashed in high winds during a concert.

The fair reopened on Aug. 15 after a memorial service to remember the victims of the accident.

Addressing a silent but teary crowd of hundreds, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told the mourners, "We come today with hearts that are broken but also hearts that are full."

"There was a hero every 10 feet on Saturday night," Daniels said. "I cannot tell you how proud I am to be the employee of six-and-a-half million people like that."

David Wood, a concert attendee who was in the front row but survived, described on "Good Morning America" a chaotic, but heroic, scene following the stage's fall.

"Chaos, it was chaos," he said. "It was amazing how many people were jumping in, saying, 'I'm a doctor, I'm an EMT.' It was astonishing."

"It was more like an instinct," he said of jumping to help those around him. "There was no thinking involved."

Wood had gathered with nearly 12,000 others on the same grounds where the memorial was held to watch a staple of state fairs, live country music, performed by the duo Sugarland. Minutes before the band was set to appear on the outdoor stage, winds of up to 70 mph blew down thousands of pounds of steel scaffolding, wooden beams, lighting, sound and other equipment.

Sara Bareilles, who opened for the duo, sang on the stage shortly before it collapsed at around 8:49 p.m., and described the scene.

"The weather changed in a matter of minutes and the stage collapsed in a matter of seconds. We are shocked and saddened by this horribly tragic circumstance and we are all praying for those affected," she wrote on her website, where she also recalled the events of the night as like "a bad dream."

"The emergency response was incredibly speedy and the people of Indiana as well as the crews from the show were beyond brave and working hard to help each other," she wrote. "My heart aches for the lives lost or injured as well as their families. We will do whatever we possibly can to help heal the hurt from this very sad day."

In a statement released to the Associated Press, Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles said she watched recaps of the collapse on the news "in horror."

"I am so moved," she said. "Moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones. Moved by the pain of those who were injured and the fear of their families. Moved by the great heroism as I watched so many brave Indianapolis fans actually run toward the stage to try and help lift and rescue those injured. Moved by the quickness and organization of the emergency workers who set up the triage and tended to the injured."

Nettles and Kristian Bush, who perform as Sugarland, canceled their Sunday show at the Iowa State Fair.

Investigation Into Collapse Widens

The fair's reopening after a day of being closed on Sunday comes as state officials widen their investigation of the cause of the stage's collapse and what role the weather, particularly such a forceful gust wind, might have played.

Sugarland manager Jason Owen referred questions about the accident to fair officials, saying in an email to news outlets, "it was their stage and lighting rigs so it wouldn't be right for us to comment."

Along with checking for signs of structural problems with the stage, investigators are reviewing whether fair and state officials acted swiftly enough in alerting concertgoers to a severe thunderstorm watch that was issued nearly three hours before the scheduled concert.

Daniels said the wind gust was a "fluke" that no one could have anticipated. Rain had been in the forecast, but not the sudden high winds that damaged the stage.

"It's not clear to me at this stage how anyone could have foreseen a sudden, highly localized blast of wind in one place," Daniels said. "The weather service is very good. They were in constant contact, repeated contact with the folks here at the fairgrounds, and they were right about the arrival of the storm. It came 15 or 20 minutes after the tragedy."

"In Indiana the weather can change from one report to another report and that was the case here," State Police Sgt. Dave Bursten said.

Daniels and police officials instead praised the hundreds of people who rushed to help when the stage came down.

While many people fled as the massive structure fell under the force of the winds, hundreds rushed to help the victims, many trying to lift the stage to free people trapped underneath.

"You had law enforcement, you had citizens, you had people jumping into lift pieces of equipment off the injured and the people who were killed in this tragic accident," Bursten said. But some of the people who were there said they aren't so sure.

"There should have been warning the storm was coming," one witness said. "You could tell the sky was getting really dark off to the left."

The crowd had been warned that thunderstorms were approaching and that they might have to evacuate. But the same announcer said concert organizers hoped the show would go on, so many stayed put.

Two minutes later, just before 9 p.m., it was too late.

"The funnel cloud came in and all of a sudden it started twirling around and the next thing I knew, I looked over my shoulder and the stand started coming down," witness Jay Keiser said.

Indiana State Police have said that number of injured could rise, given that some might have been transported privately for emergency care, rather than in ambulances ordered by rescue workers.

This section of Indiana is known as a tornado alley. In April 2006, tornado-force winds hit Indianapolis just after thousands of people left a free outdoor concert by John Mellencamp held as part of the NCAA men's Final Four basketball tournament.

And in May 2004, a tornado touched down south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, delaying the start of the Indianapolis 500 and forcing a nearly two-hour interruption in the race.

Officials today said Saturday's accident was the worst at the Indiana fairgrounds since a 1963 explosion at the fairgrounds coliseum killed 74 people attending an ice skating show.

ABC News' Dean Schabner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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