Investigation Continues After 2 Killed, 15 Injured In Lancaster Tent Collapse

Aug 4, 2015

State officials will be investigating Tuesday whether a circus tent at the Lancaster fairgrounds that collapsed in a storm Monday evening - killing a father and daughter - was properly set up, State Fire Marshal Bill Degnan said.

Gov. Maggie Hassan is asking anyone who was there to reach out to the fire marshal's office.

"Obviously, this did coincide with a severe weather event, so we're trying to make sure that we can understand all aspects of it," she said. "That's why it's very important for the public who was there to reach out to the fire marshal's office and talk with them so we can piece together what happened as accurately as possible."

The spectators were there for a 5:30 show, expecting a pleasant and entertaining evening.

Julie Fuller of Lunenberg was on the top row of the bleachers with her two-year-old daughter when the winds struck, the tent lifted and then came crashing down, triggering a helter-skelter rush with everyone trying to escape.

“It was like a movie, a scary movie gone bad, bad, very bad.”

"It was so chaotic it was crazy. People just started scattering everywhere."

She said her daughter received a small cut on her head.

Nearby Meagan Marion of Groveton was sitting with her mother.

“The whole tent collapsed. They didn’t warn people ahead of time. The whole poles were coming down and everything.”

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

She said her mother suffered a serious head injury and was being sent to Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

About 100 people were in the tent just before 6 p.m. when a storm with 60 mile per hour winds hit, Degnan said.

At least a dozen people were taken to four area hospitals but Degnan said the extent of their injuries wasn’t clear because some went in private cars.

Local fire departments are responsible for inspecting such tents and issuing a permit, Degnan said.

"The tent is their responsibility for setting up."

But Degnan said he couldn't immediately provide more details about the Lancaster inspection.

One of the officials at the scene was Coos County Attorney John McCormick. 

Asked whether it was possible that criminal charges could be brought Degnan said: "The investigation is in its very early stages and we'll look at every detail from the investigation  to see if things were done properly."

He said the circus was operated by Walker Brothers International of Sarasota, Florida. Officials there couldn’t be reached for comment.

The company is scheduled to hold events in Grafton Wednesday night, according to a schedule on the company's website.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR