Chicago woman among 5 killed at Ind. fair

April 13, 2012 3:50:50 PM PDT
A Chicago woman is one of five people who were killed at the Indiana State Fair when a burst of high wind caused a stage to collapse.

Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago was among the fans waiting for a performance by the country group Sugarland when the accident happened Saturday night. Indiana's governor said that the wind gust that toppled the stage was a "fluke" that no one could have anticipated.

Witnesses say Indiana state police took to the stage to issue a weather warning about 10 minutes before the collapse, and some fans had already walked off to seek shelter. Moments later, the stage rigging toppled over, falling onto a VIP section where hundreds of people were sitting in the audience.

Amateur video showed the stage as it collapsed just before 8:45 p.m. The National Weather Service said Sunday that winds were gusting between 60 and 70 miles per hour at the time. Police said approximately 40 others were injured.

"The degree of injuries for those people ranges from cuts and scrapes to very serious injuries. I want to be very frank: There could be a possibility that we could have other deaths," David Bursten of the Indiana state police said Saturday night.

Besides Santiago, the Marion County coroner identified the other four victims as Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah, lnd.; Glenn Goodrich, 49, of Indianapolis; Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Nathan Byrd, 51, of Indianapolis.

Vigil held for Chicago victim
On Sunday night, Santiago's friends and coworkers gathered for a vigil in Lakeview to remember her.

"She was just a brilliant person. Everything about her was brilliant," said Jamal Edwards, victim's coworker.

Santiago was a manger at the Howard Brown Health Center for most of the last six years, heading up the center's Lesbian Community Care Project while remaining a powerful advocate for all LGBT women.

"It was a true passion of hers that she took very seriously," Joe Hollendoner, Howard Brown Center VP.

"I respected her so much because of the way that she said what she thought, and she had brilliant thoughts," said Daisy Mertzel, victim's coworker.

Santiago had attended the Sugarland performance in Indianapolis with her wife Alisha Brennon. Coworkers say after working nearly every weekend, the Bronx native was looking forward to some time off. Santiago and Brennon lived in this Chicago apartment building on the North Side. They had gotten their civil union certificate and were planning to have a ceremony.

Friends say Brennon, who was was critically injured in the accident, was having surgery Sunday night. She is expected to recover from her injuries.

"They had just moved in less than a year ago. Very nice couple, both very active participants in the community," said Derek Weglarz, victim's neighbhor.

Santiago is now remembered as a rising star who received the center's Spirit Award -- the highest staff honor -- and was named to the Windy City Times' "30 Under 30" list in 2007.

"She was shining star in this community, especially in the LGBTQ community, and so we need time to grieve. This is just too sudden," said Alderman James Cappleman, 46th Ward.

"We have lost a fierce warrior and an amazing activist," said Rosa Yadira, Amigas Latinas.

Howard Brown Center officials say they are trying to organize a memorial fund in Santiago's honor. As Santiago's coworkers grieve, limited services will be offered at the center Monday.

Witnesses, responders describe the stage collapse
Witnesses says the scene was like a horror movie. Metal crashed down, trapping and injuring concertgoers.

"It's one of those things you see it, and it happens, and you just ask, 'Did it really happen?'" one witness said.

"We looked to the left, and you could see the dust rolling in. And about that time, I turned my head back to the stage. The cover on top the stage started falling, and it took about five seconds and it was down," said another witness.

Indiana state police say people were trapped underneath the stage. Witnesses say many of the concertgoers rushed to those trapped, trying to get them out and using parts of their seats to assemble make-shift stretchers. Emergency responders were on the scene almost immediately, and volunteers helped them lift the framework so people could get out.

"There was a lot of cooperation. You look at the people that put themselves in jeopardy. It's gratifying to know that people at a moment's notice will jump in to help others," said David Bursten of the Indiana state police.

On Twitter, Sugarland put out the following message to followers:

"We are all right. We are praying for our fans, and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you'll join us. They need your strength."

Fair officials canceled all of Sunday's events. A service for the victims and their families was scheduled for Monday.