POLITICS

Charges stayed in fatal stage collapse at country music jamboree

01/20/2012 04:05 EST | Updated 03/21/2012 05:12 EDT
EDMONTON - Charges against three companies in a fatal stage collapse at a popular Alberta country music festival have been stayed.

The Crown says there was no reasonable chance of conviction against Panhandle Productions, Global Production Co. and a numbered Alberta company.

"I was elated, but definitely surprised," said Larry Werner of Panhandle Productions. "We didn't think there should have been charges in the first place, but we're definitely very pleased with the outcome."

The companies faced almost three dozen charges after a powerful windstorm caused the main stage to collapse at the Big Valley Jamboree near Camrose in 2009. Most of the charges related to failing to ensure the health and safety of workers.

Donna Moore of Lloydminster, Alta., was killed and more than a dozen people were injured.

The Crown says it consulted with occupational health and safety investigators before making the decision.

"Charges were laid and then due diligence was done through the investigation," said Alberta Justice spokesman Josh Stewart.

"Once all the information was collected in the investigation, including information that was brought forward after charges were laid, it was determined that if we proceeded there was no reasonable likelihood of getting a conviction. The investigation was quite complex so there was a number of things that came forward."

The charges were originally laid two years after the collapse, the day before the opening of the 2011 version of the Jamboree.

A lawsuit on behalf of Moore's sons is still ongoing. It names the City of Camrose, the concert's promoter, the company responsible for security and several companies that built the stage. None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Information collected during the investigation has been shared with lawyers for the companies involved, meaning it could become part of the civil lawsuit.

Staying a charge means that it can be reactivated if significant new evidence becomes available within one year.

Two of the charges alleged that Premier Global Production failed to ensure that the stage and equipment were strong enough to withstand the stresses imposed by a sudden storm. The company, based in Nashville, Tenn., provides staging and lighting for music and sporting events across North America.

When charges were laid last July, Brian Andrews, vice-president of Premier Global Production, said the company had a good history of safety. He said all its stages are inspected, engineered and built according to the standards in the industry.

Moore, 35, was crushed by falling scaffolding and large speakers. The single mother was sitting near the stage.

The winds hit just as Hollywood actor Kevin Costner's band was about to perform.

Environment Canada said the plow winds were in excess of 100 kilometres an hour and were so violent that some people mistook them for a tornado or hurricane. The winds hit with only a minute's warning and caused the main stage to crumble as thousands of spectators fled.

The Big Valley collapse preceded a rash of other such events during last summer's festival season.

Six people died in August when the stage collapsed at a Sugarland concert in Indianapolis; five died in Belgium when a storm swept in and toppled the stage at the Pukkelpop Festival; and several people were injured when the stage went down at Bluesfest in Ottawa in July.

Werner said his company continues to produce the Jamboree and is in the process of planning this year's event — the festival's 20th.

"2012 is a very important year to us and we're putting together a great lineup and anticipating one of the best shows we've had in 20 years," he said.