MERRILLVILLE, Ind. — The tour manager who was widely credited with saving the lives of country duo Sugarland before a deadly stage collapse at last summer's Indiana State Fair has become a central focus of lawyers seeking millions in damages for the families of seven people who died and dozens who were injured.
Fair officials say they had a concert promoter ask the band twice to delay the Aug. 13 concert because of concerns about severe weather, but were rebuffed. Investigative reports unveiled last week said tour manager Hellen Rollens told a state fair representative, "It's only rain. We can play."
About 55 minutes of last week's videotaped deposition from Sugarland lead singer Jennifer Nettles in Charleston, W. Va., was released Monday by Merrillville attorney Kenneth J. Allen, who represents victims of the stage collapse. In it, Nettles said that she wasn't aware what fans were told about the timing of the concert.
"I don't know if anybody was told anything," she said.
Asked if she felt responsible for the safety of the fans given the heavy equipment on stage, she said, "I don't feel it's my responsibility or my management's responsibility to evacuate the fans in case of danger. Do I care about their safety? Absolutely."
Nettles appeared taken aback when she was asked by Allen whether she blamed her fans for waiting.
"No. Of course not," she said.
Sugarland spokesman Allan Mayer said Monday that Nettles and Bush say they were never asked to delay the show.
Allen said Monday that a representative with the band was asked three times to delay the show.
Reports released last week after months of investigation faulted the fair for the lack of clear safety protocols and confusion over who was in charge. Reports also said the stage design was grossly inadequate.
Victims and survivors' families who are seeking millions of dollars in damages have filed lawsuits against various entities involved in the show. Determining who was responsible for the decision not to delay the concert could be a key factor in the outcome of those lawsuits.
The fair's executive director, Cindy Hoye, said in a deposition in February that she asked Eric Milby, a representative for a concert promotion company, to seek a delay. According to a report released last week by Witt Associates, which was hired by the state to examine the decisions made on Aug. 13, Milby and tour manager Rollens discussed putting off the show, but Rollens said the band wanted to go on and was willing to play in the rain.
But at show time, Rollens held the band backstage for a prayer circle, Sugarland manager Gail Gellman told The Associated Press in August. A minute later, the stage rigging collapsed as Rollens walked down the ramp, Gellman said.
"Her decision to hold them for literally a minute saved every band member and crew's life," Gellman said. She did not return phone calls from the AP seeking comment Monday.
Nettles said in the deposition that she didn't know whether anyone with the fair had the authority to cancel the show, but she said Rollens had the authority to cancel any Sugarland show. Nettles said she was told by Rollens about 90 minutes before the scheduled start of the concert that weather was coming but said she wasn't specifically told it was a severe thunderstorm. She said she relies on Rollens and others to alert her about weather.
Attorney Mario Massillamany, who is representing one of the injured audience members, said he would like to ask Rollens if fair officials had asked to delay the concert and if she had relayed that information to the band.
"The biggest thing is we got those reports, which have a timeline of what people said, and it appears that it's different than what Kristian and Jennifer are saying in their depositions," Massillamany said.
"I think the plot will thicken on the part of Hellen Rollens, but I think at the end of the day, she's an employee," said Allen, noting Rollens has not yet been deposed. "The band had the ultimate authority to say we're not performing, and Kristian Bush admitted as much."
Rollens' attorney, Kevin Kearney, did not return a phone call seeking comment. The AP was unable to locate a phone listing for Rollens in the Los Angeles area.
Allen said he released a portion of the deposition Monday because he believes Sugarland's publicists have been releasing inaccurate press releases.
Mayer, Sugarland's spokesman, said Rollens was still employed, but not acting as manager on the current tour. Mayer denied that the band was responsible.
"The decision to delay the show is typically left up to the venue," so in this case, the fair, he said.
The state's liability is limited to $5 million by state law, but state lawmakers voted in March to give an additional $6 million to the stage collapse victims.
___Charles Wilson reported from Indianapolis.