Is auditorium director to blame for faulty Westfield stage construction?

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WESTFIELD, Ind. (May 19, 2015) – No criminal charges will be filed in connection with the stage collapse at Westfield High School that left 17 students injured.

Capt. Charles Hollowell with the Westfield Police Department said the April 23 collapse was caused by a new orchestra pit lid that had been constructed by a school employee and students. The new cover replaced the old one. The normal stage would have steel beams to secure it; the new "pit lid" was not securely anchored, resulting in the collapse during the "American Pie" performance.

Hollowell said when emergency crews arrived on the scene, they first concentrated on providing medical aid. They then secured the scene and began investigating the circumstances surrounding the collapse. They interviewed victims and witnesses and set about collecting evidence.

The original stage with steel beams was an option for the performance, but it was unclear why the new, unsecured pit lid was used instead. Westfield police kept the scene secured from April 23 through May 8. Indiana State Police also assisted with the investigation.

Tim Dickson, a structural engineer, hasn't inspected the collapsed stage, but he knows what is required to modify a stage similar to the one at Westfield.

"The details come into how are you connecting everything together because that's usually the weak link," said Dickson.

"In January 2015, a school employee purchased building materials and with the help of Westfield High School students, constructed an orchestra pit lid or cover that was based on its own design," Hollowell said. "This construction failed, resulting in the collapse because the upstage header was not securely anchored to the primary structure."

"You are taking a material that is not nearly as strong and making it more shallow--so there's all kind of problems," said Dickson.

Westfield Police say auditorium director, Quinten James, took it upon himself to modify the pit lid. School officials were unaware of the modifications made by James. The construction occurred in January 2015, according to school officials.

The case was presented to the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office. Hollowell said even though the collapse was "catastrophic," the failed construction and maintenance of the stage did not "rise to the level of criminal culpability," according to the prosecutor's office.

Westfield Washington Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Keen said 16 of 17 students injured in the collapse are back in school.

"There were some serious injuries here," Keen said during a news conference Tuesday.

He outlined several procedures for the school to follow involving the stage:

  • Contact stage manufacturer to inspect and install it in workable condition
  • Review installation procedures of maintenance department
  • Administrators will sign off on any future stage modifications
  • Regular inspections of the stage will be conducted

The regular stage has been at the school since 1997 and Keen estimated almost 2,800 events were held at the auditorium without any issues. He emphasized that the regular stage was not used during the "American Pie" performance.

Keen also said the school would begin its own internal investigation into the collapse.

Investigators also released a series of 911 calls from the collapse. Here are some samples:

Call No. 1

Call No. 2

Call No. 3

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