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Circus Crews Helped Prevent Serious Injuries, Officials Say

July 13, 1987

HOWARD, Wis. (AP) _ Fast action by circus employees helped save some 1,100 spectators from serious injury after a circus tent collapsed on them when it was battered by high wind during a thunderstorm, officials said.

″I give a lot of credit to the circus people. They immediately went into action and that probably helped save lives,″ said Roger Sachs, president of the village of Howard, west of Green Bay, where the tent was put up.

″There was no panic. People did what they had to do, helping others get out,″ Sachs said.

Toby Tyler Circus workers cut holes in the tent to help people out after the accident during the Saturday afternoon show, said Brown County Sheriff’s Sgt. George Weitzel, who estimated the crowd at 1,100 to 1,200 people.

Weitzel said it was fortunate that the tiger act had just concluded and the animals were back in their cage.

Officials at St. Mary’s and St. Vincent hospitals in Green Bay reported one man was hospitalized with a broken leg and 43 others were treated for lesser injuries and released.

Chip Andis of Green Bay was at the circus with his wife and four children, and said he decided to get them out when he saw the sky turning dark and wind starting to blow the tent.

″We were on our way out, we were heading toward the exit, before it really started hitting, when everything started rattling and shaking,″ he said. ″Then the tent started going (and) everybody started screaming and panicking and going even faster.

″By the time the wind actually hit and started picking up the tent, it was all over in five seconds. The worst hit that quickly and then it was gone.″

Weitzel said circus officials told him that the tent, 274 feet long, 134 feet wide and 42 feet high, was designed to withstand wind up to 70-75 mph.

The peak gust recorded at the Green Bay airport Saturday afternoon was 44 mph, although higher gusts could have occurred in other thunderstorms that moved through the area, said Steven Hentz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Milwaukee.

Weitzel said he had no reason to believe that there were flaws in the tent. ″I think we just got a bad gust of wind,″ he said.

The Toby Tyler Circus is operated by Big Top Productions of Sarasota, Fla. It moved on to Appleton for a show Sunday.

Last year, the circus was struck twice by bleacher collapses.

On May 9, a collapse in Middletown Township, Pa., injured nine people and temporarily trapped 30 others under bleachers.

A bleacher collapse during a June 16 stop in Greenport, N.Y., injured 68 people. Officials blamed that accident on muddy ground under the bleachers.

The Greenport accident prompted legislative and legal action in New York state, including passage of a bill stiffening penalties for willful violations of the state’s safety code that lead to serious injury or death.

Nathan Riley, spokesman for the New York attorney general’s office, said that the circus had been banned from the state and that a lawsuit against the circus was nearing an out-of-court settlement.

Criminal charges lodged against circus president Richard Garden by Columbia County are pending, Riley said. Garden pleaded innocent in January to 19 criminal counts, including assault, reckless endangerment and criminal nuisance.

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