Fire Marshal Recommends Negligent Homicide Charges in Lancaster Circus Tent Collapse

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Storm suspected of being a powerful microburst hit the circus in Lancaster last August in the early evening. Investigators worked through the night picking through the wreckage.

By Christopher Jensen
InDepthNH.org

The state fire marshal is recommending negligent homicide charges be brought against the operator of a circus tent that collapsed in Lancaster last August killing a father and daughter.

“That was one of the recommendations,” J. William Degnan told InDepthNH.org on Monday. “We had some issues with the tent, we had some issues with their monitoring of the weather,” he said.

Degnan said his report has been turned over to Coos County Attorney John McCormick for possible criminal charges. McCormick said he has received the report but never comments on cases at this stage.

The tent, operated by Walker International Events, collapsed during a severe storm on Aug. 3, 2015. Robert Young and his daughter Annabelle, 7, of Concord, Vt., were killed by the heavy beams that were supporting the tent. Dozens were injured, including two circus employees. Walker denies any wrongdoing.

Degnan said investigators from his office concluded Walker International Events violated the building code, fire code and failed to get the necessary assembly permit. That request would have triggered a safety inspection by the Lancaster Fire Department.

The Lancaster Fire Department also could have taken the initiative and inspected the circus, which was located at the fairgrounds, but it did not.

Officials at Walker, located in Myakka City, Fla., couldn’t be reached for comment.

In February, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Walker for 14 violations of workplace safety standards. They included failing to properly erect the tent – and not taking it down “amid expected winds exceeding 60 miles per hour.” It levied fines totaling $33,800. The company is contesting the fines.

Chris Jensen can be reached at: ChristopherJensenNH@gmail.com.

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