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Circus operator to pay $24K fine over deadly tent collapse

Posted 2:38 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 2:39 p.m. Wednesday

— A Florida-based circus operator has agreed to pay $24,000 in fines issued by federal safety officials for a tent collapse that killed two people and injured dozens in New Hampshire last year.

Robert Young, 41, and his 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, of Concord, Vermont, died Aug. 3, 2015, when a storm with 75 mph winds blew through the Lancaster Fairgrounds, toppling the tent just minutes after about 100 people had settled in for a show. Fifty others were injured.

Sarasota-based Walker International Events contested $33,000 in fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; a judge recently approved a settlement.

OSHA said Walker failed to properly erect the tent and ignored severe weather and high-wind warnings. Inspectors determined that the company failed to use required tent stakes, properly anchor the stakes or replace damaged stakes.

The agency also found hazards that put circus employees at risk of electric shock, burns and cuts, such as the use of inappropriate electrical equipment in wet areas and a lack of fire extinguishers in areas where employees worked with open flames.

Walker is out of business, and OSHA said Wednesday it won't resume operations unless it first implements a comprehensive safety and health management plan.

"While nothing can undo the tragedy in Lancaster, this settlement does seek to prevent future such occurrences," said Michael Felsen, the New England regional solicitor of labor. "This case serves as a reminder to employers everywhere that severe weather can present significant safety and health hazards to their employees, and that they must take adequate precautions to address those hazards."

Walker also faced seven lawsuits. Some of the cases have been settled and others have been consolidated, including a wrongful death suit filed by Rebecca Young, wife of Robert Young and mother of Annabelle. A proposed agreement on those cases has been filed with the court.

Walker also pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of operating without a license and other violations.

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