Indiana fair reopens after weekend of tragedy

Chicagoan among five victims

August 15, 2011

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(Photo provided by the Howard Brown Health Center)
Christina Santiago of Chicago was among five people who died at the Indiana State Fair on Saturday night.

The Indiana State Fair is usually a haven away from life’s troubles, but not in recent days. Five people died after a stage collapsed Saturday night just before a country music concert. Wind gusts between 60 and 70 miles per hour toppled the stage where an estimated 12,000 people were waiting to see the band Sugarland at the fairgrounds just north of downtown Indianapolis.

Four of the five victims were spectators; one was a stage hand.

The fair closed Sunday but re-opened Monday morning following a memorial service to honor the victims, included Christina Santiago of Chicago. She was the manager for the Lesbian Community Care Project at the Howard Brown Health Center.

“The sudden and devastating loss of Christina has left the entire community, including her Howard Brown Health Center family, heartbroken,” Jamal M. Edwards, President and CEO of Howard Brown Health Center, said in a written statement. “Christina was an amazing woman – one of our very brightest stars – who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of women, particularly lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer women. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Christina's friends and family, and her beautiful partner Alisha Brennon, who is also a dear friend of HBHC and was severely injured, but not killed, in the accident. Santiago worked at the health center for nearly six years. She has been a leading and driving force in the expansion of our women's health services division and a powerful advocate for all LGBT women.”

Tammy Vandam, a 42-year-old mother from the Northwest Indiana town of Wanatah, was also killed.

Ind. Gov. Mitch Daniels lead today’s service by praising those, including spectators, for helping the injured or trapped.

“My heart is full for those people who, some from duty but many simply from their love and personal bravery, acted in courageous ways to make sure that Saturday night was not worse than it was,” Daniels said. “All day yesterday, I talk to state troopers, firemen, emergency personnel, every one of them had a story about that stranger who was to their left and their right helping them extricate the injured, lift the scaffolding, complete disregarding their own safety. There was a hero every 10 feet on Saturday night.”

The other victims were Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne, 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich and 51-year-old Nathan Byrd, both of Indianapolis. Byrd worked as a stagehand. He was atop the rigging when it fell. He died Sunday night at an Indianapolis hospital. In addition to the five people who died, four dozen were taken to area hospitals.

The fair runs through Sunday. Organizers say they do not plan to hold any more concerts this week at the main grandstand where the stage collapsed. Late Monday, fair organizers announced the cancellation of concerts for Janet Jackson and Lady Antebellum, who were supposed to perform on the state that collapsed.

A concert Thursday feature Train and Maroon 5 will go on as scheduled but at a yet-to-be-determined site near the fairgrounds.

The Indiana State Fire Marshall’s office and the Indiana Occupational, Safety and Health Administration are investigating the incident.