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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stage collapse - "LaPorte Judge orders state to preserve fair stage wreckage"

Tom Coyne of the AP reports on yesterday's hearing in LaPorte County. Some quotes:

LAPORTE -- 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. In it, he directed the state to follow the protocols put forth by the engineering firm the state has hired to investigate the collapse. * * *

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 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. Allen 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 ordered 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.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 24, 2011 07:48 AM
Posted to Stage Collapse