6th person dies from Indiana stage collapse

Indiana State Police and authorities survey the collapsed rigging and Sugarland stage on the infield at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011. Five people died in the stage collapse.
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

INDIANAPOLIS - A 22-year-old college student injured when a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair died Friday, the same day lawsuits were filed on behalf of two other victims.

Jennifer Haskell, a Ball State University senior, became the sixth person to die from injuries suffered in the collapse that happened while fans were waiting for the country act Sugarland to perform. Four died immediately, including Haskell's best friend and Tammy Vandam, a 42-year-old Wanatah homemaker and former disc jockey. One of the lawsuits filed Friday was on behalf of Vandam's estate and her 17-year-old daughter.

A fifth person died hours after the collapse from his injuries.

Haskell's uncle, Mike Whited, announced her death in a statement Friday after it was first reported by The Star Press of Muncie.

Haskell was entering her senior year at Ball State University in Muncie, where she was studying sports medicine. Her uncle said she had planned on becoming an athletic trainer after playing softball and basketball at Monroe Central High School in Parker City, about 70 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

"After a long courageous battle, Jenny Haskell died at 8:15 this morning from her injuries sustained from the tragedy at the State Fair," her family's statement said. "Jenny's family would like to thank everyone for their support and prayers during this difficult time. Continued support and prayers from the remaining victims would be greatly appreciated."

Haskell died at an Indianapolis hospital. It was not clear Friday how many of the roughly four dozen injured in the stage collapse remained hospitalized. State police stopped providing updates on the injured earlier this week. Condition reports have not been available from hospitals.

State Fair spokesman Andy Klotz told WTHR-TV the fair expresses "its deepest sympathies to her family."

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The others killed were Haskell's best friend, 23-year-old Alina Bigjohny of Fort Wayne, who was recently hired to teach seventh-grade English in Muncie; stagehand Nathan Byrd, 51, of Indianapolis, who was atop the rigging when it fell and later died from his injuries; Glenn Goodrich, 49, of Indianapolis, who worked for an underwater camera and lighting equipment company; and Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago, a gay activist and program manager for a Chicago nonprofit.

The Valparaiso law firm of Kenneth J. Allen & Associates filed two suits Friday in LaPorte Circuit Court on behalf of Vandam and 49-year-old Beth Urschel, who was among the dozens injured. Both women were from Wanatah. Attorney Kenneth J. Allen said the women were life partners.

Spokesman Bryan Corbin said the Indiana attorney general's office would review the suit and file a response. He also said the state had not received any tort claims related to the accident. The other defendants didn't immediately return phone calls seeking comment Friday.

The suits include requests for a court order protecting the wreckage so the firm's investigators can examine it.

Fair Commission member Ted McKinney said at a news conference that victims' families and others would have access to the wreckage. One attorney sent a letter to Gov. Mitch Daniels on Thursday, asking him to issue an executive order keeping the stage and other materials from being removed so victims' families wouldn't have to go to court to preserve it.

"Whoever needs and wants access to the site, has that access to the site," McKinney said Friday.

Fair officials have hired New York engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti Inc. to investigate the accident. The state also hired Witt Associates, a public safety and crisis management firm based in Washington to conduct a "comprehensive, independent analysis of the state fair's preparedness and response" to the collapse.

Ted McKinney promised Friday that the process would be transparent.

But Indianapolis lawyer Mark Ladendorf, who expects to represent at least two victims' families, said most firms will launch their own investigations.

"We're going to have to get answers for our clients," he said. "We succinctly can't rely on what the government is going to tell us and what someone hired by the government will tell us."

It remains unclear whether anyone had inspected the stage that toppled, or whether anyone was supposed to do so.

More lawsuits are expected. Dan Chamberlain, a partner at the Indianapolis personal-injury firm of Doehrman Chamberlain, told the Indianapolis Business Journal that his firm could sue on behalf of one victim within the next week.

"You've got 50 people injured, five who have been killed, and you've got $5 million in coverage," Chamberlain said. "It's nowhere close to fairly and adequately compensating the families."

Under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, lawyers must notify the state they intend to sue within 270 days of the accident.

State fair spokesman Andy Klotz said the fair is self-insured against such lawsuits under the Indiana State Tort Claims Act.

A fund the Central Indiana Community Foundation set up for the victims raised nearly $107,000 by Friday, foundation spokesman Mike Knight said. That tally didn't include donations expected from a Train-Maroon 5 concert Thursday night in Indianapolis.