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Officials probing US tent collapse that killed 2

August 4, 2015

LANCASTER, New Hampshire (AP) — It’s unclear why a circus that was warned about impending severe weather put on its planned show in a tent that ended up collapsing in a storm, killing a spectator and his 8-year-old daughter, the state fire marshal in New Hampshire said Tuesday.

More than 30 others were taken to hospitals after the collapse Monday night at the Lancaster Fairgrounds.

Fire Marshal Bill Degnan said it’s the responsibility of the circus operator to monitor the weather. The show began seven minutes after the National Weather Service issued a severe-thunderstorm warning. The storm blew through about 15 minutes after that, with about 100 people inside the tent.

Spectator Heidi Medeiros, who attended the circus with her 3-year-old son, told WMUR-TV that the metal poles holding up the tent flew out of the ground, then slammed onto the bleacher where they had been sitting.

Degnan said the storm cut a track of a half-mile to a mile (about 800-1,600 meters) that included downed trees while it approached the tent.

The victims of the collapse were identified as 41-year-old Robert Young and his daughter Annabelle, of Vermont. An autopsy showed they died of blunt force trauma, Degnan said.

The yellow-and red-striped tent was still on the ground Tuesday afternoon, away from the bleachers. Items were still strewn about, such as concession-type inflatable Sponge Bob figurines.

Degnan said the operator, Florida-based Walker International Events, has been cooperating in the investigation.

Walker’s president, John Caudill Jr., has a history of violations with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, primarily while operating another company, Walker Brothers Circus, Inc.

A decade ago, Caudill and his associates agreed to pay a $25,000 fine for a series of violations in 2001 while operating without an Animal Welfare Act license. The license, which allows businesses to display animals publicly, had been suspended in 1997 for other violations.

The 2001 violations, which resulted in a five-year license suspension, included failing to get adequate veterinary care for elephants with severe chemical burns and a bacterial infection, as well as elephants with overgrown footpads and toenails. They also were cited for failing to get treatment for an elephant that was excessively thin and failing to have a proper distance or barrier between elephants and the public during a viewing.

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