Two Indiana women have been charged with filing false claims for a piece of the $5 million settlement fund set up to compensate victims of last summer's Indiana State Fair stage collapse.
Investigators say neither Stephanie Murry, 25, nor Sandra Hurn, 38, were at the Aug. 13 concert where a stage-rigging collapse killed seven people and injured 61, according to CNN. Their claim packets were flagged as "questionable" by an Indiana State Fair Commission official after Hurn told a detective she recalled hearing the country band perform "a couple of songs" before the stage collapse, when in fact Sugarland never took the stage that night.
Hurn reportedly confessed under questioning that she and Murry made a plan to file false injury claims almost immediately after the disaster, the Indianapolis Star reports. Hurn went to a hospital shortly after midnight on Aug. 14, and again the following day, to secure medical documentation that supported her fake injury. Hurn and Murry also both used the same patient identification code and other specifics belonging to an 11-year-old victim neither is connected to, according to prosecutors.
Hurn reportedly told authorities that Murry, who is her niece, and suggested the scheme, which included Murry claiming the accident cut her cheek, producing a scar investigators found visible in her driver's license photo taken in 2008, and altering hospital records from "no visible signs of trauma" to read "visible signs of trauma," according to ABC.
Murry allegedly bragged about her hospital visit to police, saying she went to a hospital, "fell out on the floor" and "performed" to get medical records that backed up her story, according to the Star.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, calls for compensation for medical expenses as well as suffering and damages led to lawsuits, including a claim against Sugarland representing 44 plaintiffs injured in the accident. Some blamed the band, saying they could have called the show off when bad weather was reported, but failed to do so.
All but one of 65 total claimants accepted proposed settlement payouts last week from the Indiana State Fair Remembrance Fund (ISFRF) that totalled $5 million, the maximum allowed by Indiana law. The estates of the deceased each received more than $300,000, and the remaining money will be allocated to cover medical expenses, according to the Associated Press.
The tragedy also reinvigorated the issue of civil union recognition in Indiana after Alisha Brennon claimed entitlement to a wrongful death settlement on behalf of her wife, Chicago-based LGBT activist Christina Santiago, who was killed in the collapse. The state awarded Brennon the same settlement benefits as the spouses of heterosexual victims last week.
Authorities say Murry and Hurn each submitted claims that totalled to $22,500, and Hurn collected $7,500 from the ISFRF, MSNBC reports. Murry's alleged injuries didn't qualify for ISFRF compensation. Hurn was arrested when she picked up her claim check, and Murry was taken into custody shortly after.
"It's beyond troubling in a situation which was clearly a tragedy--people were legitimately injured, even killed--that there are people out there that in turn exploit it for their own gain," Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry told MSNBC.
Murry has been charged with forgery, perjury and attempted theft, and Hurn faces three counts of forgery, two counts of perjury, theft and attempted theft, according to ABC. Both women have previous drug-related convictions, and the most serious charges against them carry maximum penalties of up to eight years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
See footage from the collapse below. WARNING: Content is graphic and may be disturbing to some: