Indiana State Police Sgt.
Noel Houze witnessed the
deadly stage collapse at
the Indiana State Fair
(Indianapolis, Ind.) – Indiana State Police Sgt. Noel Houze wasn’t expecting to have to spring into action when he went to the Indiana State Fair Saturday.
Houze, of Milan, is the public information officer at the state police’s Versailles post. He was only at the fair as a spectator for the Sugarland concert along with his wife when the unthinkable happened.
“I was in the grandstand four or five rows from the top and pretty much center,” Houze told Eagle 99.3 Monday morning.
“Wind got underneath (the tarp). It kind of bubbled out like a parachute and the east section of the stage tore loose. Then all at once it just twisted and came straight down,” he recalled.
So far, five people have died. More than 40 people were injured, many of them still in the hospital fighting for their lives.
Houze said warnings about the ensuing weather was given to the crowd, but the wind picked up almost as soon as the information was given despite the actual thunderstorm still being 25 to 30 minutes away.
“We knew some weather was moving in. They had made an announcement on the stage that weather was moving in and they were hoping to maybe have a delay but planned on getting the concert in. They indicated that they may have to evacuate and gave people instructions on where they needed to go,” Houze said.
“I think (the state police and fair officials) had every intention of evacuating everybody. There was no way they could have predicted this big gust of wind coming in the way it did. The wind itself didn’t last but a minute and a half. It came through and then it was gone.”
Houze said as he heard the screams from the crowd, memories flashed into his head of the 1979 tragedy in which 11 people were either trampled or squeezed to death at The Who concert at the Cincinnati Coliseum.
Luckily, most in the grandstand crowd did not panic, he said.
“There was a lot of noise from the grandstand,” he recalled. “I told my wife let’s just start crossing over bleachers where there aren’t as many people.”
“It came up so quick that the state fair grandstand officials and state police hadn’t had time to stage up to do the evacuation. The folks who were in the grandstands were pretty much on their own to self-evacuate. There was a sense of urgency there but it was pretty orderly. People didn’t panic – lot of screaming but they didn’t panic. They were taking their time getting out and people that were up there in wheelchairs, people made room for them to get to elevators and get down,” Houze said.
In the moments after the collapse, Houze knew as an Indiana State Police member he had to go from spectator to trooper.
Dressed in plain clothes not uniform, Houze did not attempt to make it past security towards the fallen stage rigging to assist.
“I got (my wife) to safety and thought ‘I need to do something,’” House said.
He headed for the Indiana State Police operations center at the fairgrounds and began helping reconnect people and children who had been separated from their families in the havoc.
“There was a little girl from Hamilton County, Ohio coincidentally who had been separated from her party. Her mother, older sister and a friend of the older sister were, in fact, among those transported to area hospitals. We got her reunited with a neighbor that just by some coincidence just happened to be in Indianapolis on a totally unrelated purpose,” said Houze.
Read more about the tragedy at the Indiana State Fair here.