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Costs of State Fair stage collapse investigation could be steep

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The Indiana State Fair stage collapse will cost the state millions of dollars, not only in payouts to victims, but in fees to investigators as well.

An executive at New York engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti Inc. said this week that it would take at least six to eight months before it could determine a cause of the accident.

Fees paid to the firm and to another hired by the state to conduct an independent analysis of the state fair’s preparedness and response to the Aug. 13 collapse are  likely to top seven figures.

Strong winds toppled a state fair stage onto fans waiting to see country act Sugarland perform at the Grandstand, leading to seven deaths and dozens of injuries. Some of the injured may require care for the rest of their lives.

Spokeswomen for both Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Indiana State Fair Commission said Thursday that it’s too early to know how much the state will pay for the investigations.

But based on hourly rates stipulated in the contract, investigation fees could easily reach into the millions, on top of the maximum $5 million in damages allowed by law that the state has agreed to pay victims of the tragedy.

Thornton Tomasetti is charging the state hourly fees ranging from $290 an hour for a senior vice president assigned to the investigation to $95 an hour for administrative staff workers, according to the contract.

A senior vice president alone paid $290 an hour would receive roughly $300,000 if the investigation concludes in six months. The amount rises to $375,000 if the probe lasts eight months.

Besides a senior vice president and administrative staff workers, engineers and technicians are paid between $115 and $190 an hour, according to the contract.

Six employees of Thornton Tomasetti currently are working onsite at the fairgrounds, though more than a dozen so far have been involved in the investigation, said Scott Nacheman, a vice president of the company.

Thornton Tomasetti declined to discuss how much it might be paid for its work, because the investigation is ongoing.

"It depends on the scope of the work and how many hours and how many variables," company spokesman Jim Kent said. "There's lots of variables."

The state also hired Witt Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based public safety and crisis management firm.

Its task is to conduct the independent analysis of the state fair’s preparedness for and response to the tragedy.

Witt's fees range from $108 an hour for administrative staffers to $450 an hour for a top executive, according to the contract.

Witt spokeswoman Kim Fuller also declined to provide an estimate on how much the company might earn from the state's contract.

"It is too early to know what the cost of the review will be because we have just begun," she said via e-mail. "Know that there will be many more hours billed at the lower end of the hourly rate scale than at the high end. And while many positions have been mentioned, not all those positions may end up being needed."

The contracts with both firms do not have a dollar cap, according to state officials. The contracts run through the end of the year but could be extended.

Stephanie McFarland, a spokeswoman for the fair commission, said extensions have not been discussed yet.

More than 500 components of the stage roof have been documented, photographed and catalogued, and entered into a database to develop a “structural analysis model” that will be used to study the structure, Scott Nacheman of Thornton Tomasetti said.

As the weather turns cooler, the firm is considering tearing down the collapsed stage and relocating and reassembling it at an indoor location outside the fairgrounds.

It has remained in front of the Grandstand since the tragedy.

“We have removed equipment, instruments, some of the electronic equipment that was offstage, but nothing from under the debris pile,” Nacheman said.

Meanwhile, donations to benefit victims of the stage collapse could begin to be distributed within the next two weeks.

A State Fair Remembrance Fund now containing more than $800,000 in donations likely will be distributed before the state begins to pay out its $5 million in damages, Kenneth Feinberg said Wednesday.

Feinberg, an expert who administered victim-compensation funds following 9/11 and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, is serving as an unpaid consultant to the state on claims associated with the concert tragedy as well as offering advice on distribution of the remembrance fund.

Feinberg said the challenge will be determining who’s eligible to receive money from the two pools of funds.

“There’s a limited amount of money here,” Feinberg said. “How much will go to death claims and injury claims? We will have a final answer to those questions in a matter of weeks.”

Accepting a settlement offer is optional. Victims instead could decline an offer and pursue litigation in court. But reaching a settlement with the state would provide certainty of compensation and early resolution, while minimizing the costs of a lengthy lawsuit, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a press release.

 

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  • greedy
    so the copany inevestigating will get more money than the victims--- gee isn"t that GREAT
  • Unnecessary Greed
    How about the attendee who filed suit because she suffered traume by witnessing the tragic event. I'd like to be the judge in that case and disbar the attorney!
  • Not all of us...
    have cell phones that get the weather Dave. I don't own one. And since when do most people have common sense?
  • Sorry BigJer
    Yes considering todays life styles, we all have phones that access the weather and we should have common sense to seek shelter when conditions exist to harm us. So, I disagree with your thoughts as well.
    • Do not Agree
      Sorry Dave but I give very little credibility in this case that individuals should have some responsibility because they went to the concert. There is a huge difference between someone refusing to evacuate in a hurricane and someone attending a concert in the rain. There was absolutely ZERO reason someone would have thought they would be risking their lives attending that concert. When you get behind the wheel in your car you know there is a chance you might have an accident. When you fly you know that there is a chance you might crash, but sitting in a chair at the State Fair and you want to blame the fan. The officials with access to weather radar did not evacuate but you want to blame the fan who had no access to weather information for not leaving? Sorry I cannot agree.
    • what the???
      So we are going to spend more money to determine what happened than we are going to pay the victims. That's really great. Family of dead victim gets $200,000 while the "investigator" gets $300,000. Is that what Indiana government stands for?

      I think the Govenor needs to explain how an investigator could get more from this event than someone who lost their life. Somewhere our priorities are wrong!
    • Due to the legal quacks
      The state needs to have the accident investigaged due to the greedy attornies that will try to rape the state for money. I do believe those injured and the families of those that lost their lives are eligible for something, but at the same time they were not restrained from seeking shelter; therefore, they do not necessarily qualify for money to cover them for them for life based on thier decisions. Even insurance companies set limits for occurances due to nature. No reason taxpayers should have to pay.
      • Why a NYC firm?
        First: Why did the State of Indiana feel they needed to hire a NYC engineering firm for this investigation? Aren't there any qualified firms in Indiana or nearby who could have determined the cause of this accident at a small fraction of the cost that will now be incurred?

        Second: FYI: Thorton Tomasetti is the same firm that provided engineering for the mess that occurred at the Central Library a few years ago. That was the project with widespread problems with the underground parking garage that resulted in millions of dollars of additional costs to the taxpayers.

        Who selected these guys? Is anyone that was involved in the selection prcess thinking?


      • Hourly rates
        I wish I could charge my clients $290 per hour. I would certainly enjoy my work more.

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