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Indiana fair victim testifies on state plan for found money

February 16, 2012

A high school tennis player who was crippled in last summer's deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair testified Thursday as legislators considered whether to double the amount the state is paying for victims.

The Legislature is considering a plan to boost the state's overall payout to fair victims from $5 million to $10 million, using a portion of $320 million in tax revenue that officials late last year found had been collected but not properly deposited in state accounts.

Brad Humphrey, 18, told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that he was looking forward to his senior season as the No. 1 singles tennis player at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis when he was hurt after strong winds toppled the stage rigging just before an Aug. 13 concert by country duo Sugarland.

Humphrey, who was hospitalized for seven weeks and is now paraplegic, said he faces a lifetime of taking medication and needing a wheelchair-accessible home, vehicle and workplace. He said he's worried even the additional money wouldn't be enough to help all those facing a lifetime of medical bills.

"Not only were lives lost, but other lives have been changed and are measured as in 'before Sugarland' and 'after Sugarland,' " Humphrey said.

Sue Humphrey said her son's medical expenses have already topped $500,000 and that his lifelong medical bills are estimated at more than $5 million, so even if the Legislature doubled the payout, it would fall far short of covering them.

That $5 million amount is what the state has allocated collectively for the families of the seven people killed and dozens hurt in the collapse, due to a law that caps the state's liability.

Besides the additional funding for fair victims, the plan to spend some of the recently discovered money would give $80 million more to school districts toward the cost of full-day kindergarten.

House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, told senators that the plan approved by the House last month would give $400,000 more to survivors of each person killed and provide more money for medical expenses of those injured.

"None of us would suggest that money will make it right, particularly for those families who lost a loved one or for those who suffered lifetime injuries," Espich said.

Tony Patterson, an Indianapolis attorney representing some of the victims, said there are no guarantees of victims getting more money from their lawsuits and that even the additional $5 million in state money wouldn't cover what he estimated at $100 million in damages suffered by the victims.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he believed state officials were correct to act quickly to distribute the first $5 million to victims.

"By adding another $5 million, we're doubling what we think is our recognized legal reward," he said. "I think the state's showing a great level of sensitivity and generosity in coming up with that amount."

Kenley said he supported both the extra money for the stage-collapse victims and the $80 million for full-day kindergarten costs, and he expected the committee would advance the plan next week.

Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, suggested that more money should go toward reinstating public school funding that was cut in recent years. Kenley said the current state budget restores some of that funding and the additional kindergarten funding also would help districts.

State officials late last year discovered $320 million in corporate taxes that had been collected over four years but not transferred to the state's general fund. The remainder of that money will boost the state's bottom line and is expected to kick in an automatic tax refund of about $50 per taxpayer.

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