Year after circus tent collapse, company faces suits, charges
CONCORD, N.H. >> A year after a circus tent collapsed in New Hampshire killing a man and his 6-year-old daughter, a Florida-based circus operator is facing numerous charges and lawsuits.
About 100 people were inside the tent on Aug. 3, 2015, at the Lancaster Fairgrounds when a storm blew through, toppling it. Winds were estimated at up to 75 mph and the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning.
Robert Young and his daughter Annabelle, of Concord, Vermont, were killed; 50 others were injured.
Sarasota-based Walker International Events is facing seven lawsuits, including a wrongful death suit filed by Rebecca Young, wife and mother.
"Just imagine going to what you would expect to be a fun-filled evening, and you actually see your spouse and your child crushed," said John Haymond, whose Connecticut-based law firm is representing Young.
Walker, an equipment leasing company, and the fairgrounds named as defendants in that lawsuit have denied the allegations or said they don't know enough to "form a belief" about them. They have requested a jury trial.
Walker also is facing a felony charge of operating without a license and other violations. It is contesting more than $33,000 in fines proposed by federal safety officials alleging the company failed to use required tent stakes, properly anchor the stakes or replace damaged ones. A hearing is tentatively scheduled for October. Walker's number has not been in service and lawyer representing them did not return a phone call.
The show began seven minutes after the weather service issued its storm warning. The storm blew through about 15 minutes after that. State Fire Marshal Bill Degnan had said the storm cut a track of a half-mile to a mile that included downed trees while it approached the tent. He had said it's the responsibility of the circus operator to monitor the weather.
Following the tent collapse and investigation, Degnan's office conducted two tent safety courses. Degnan said firefighters, building officials and tent handlers agree state codes are sufficient, but that more education could improve their effectiveness.
Degnan said there are plans to discuss possible legislation that would allow tent event operators to file their engineering plans in a central office, as opposed to filing a plan with each town they plan to visit. "The locals wouldn't have to review the plan; they would just have to look and say, 'Did they put it up according to the plan?"' he said.
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