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First Lawsuits Filed In Ind. Stage Collapse

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The overhead stage rigging collapses into the crowd in front of the stage at the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand at the Indiana State Fair, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011, in Indianapolis. Authorities say they have confirmed at least three deaths after the stage collapse, where the country group Sugarland was set to perform. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Matt Kryger)

The overhead stage rigging collapses into the crowd in front of the stage at the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand at the Indiana State Fair, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011, in Indianapolis. Authorities say they have confirmed at least three deaths after the stage collapse, where the country group Sugarland was set to perform. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Matt Kryger)

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VALPARAISO, Ind. – The first lawsuits were announced Friday in connection with last weekend’s Indiana State Fair stage collapse, as the fatal accident claimed a sixth life.

One of the suits was filed on behalf of Tammy Vandam of Wanatah, Ind., who died when a mountain of scaffolding toppled and pitched into the crowd Saturday evening in Indianapolis as hundreds waited for a Sugarland concert to begin.

State officials blamed a freak gust of wind, but the attorney who represents the family of Vandam, who had a teen daughter, insists tragedy could have been prevented. He says fair organizers and the people who built the stage must be held liable.

“This was not an unforeseeable, unpredictable fluke,” Valparaiso attorney Kenneth J. Allen said at a news conference. “It was quite the opposite. It was not only foreseeable, it was preventable.”

A separate lawsuit was filed on behalf Vandam’s partner, 49-year-old Beth Urschel, whose toe was severed but reattached and who suffered other injuries.

She says her emotional pain is indescribable. Urschel took Vandam to see Sugarland, her favorite band, perform at the state fair. She says they knew rain was coming but couldn’t have anticipated what would happen next.

“All of a sudden I heard screaming, and we felt the wind,” Urschel said, becoming emotional. “I looked up, and here’s this stage starting to fall. Where do you run? Where do you go? You just pray that you survive.”

Also Friday, published reports said Jennifer Haskell, 22, died Friday morning at a hospital in Indianapolis. The Ball State University student had been gravely injured in the stage disaster.

She was the sixth to die. Four people died immediately when the stage fell, including 29-year-old Chicagoan Christina Santiago. A stage hand died later.

The lawsuits filed Friday seek more than $60 million.

An investigation continues into the accident. Allen said he would ask a judge to order that evidence be preserved.

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