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Finger points at stage owner in collapse

Bluesfest structure poorly built, violated provincial laws, report finds
By Chris Cobb, Ottawa Citizen November 19, 2012

The massive stage that collapsed during a violent windstorm at Ottawa Bluesfest 2011 was poorly constructed and violated several Ontario Health and Safety laws and building regulations, according to a long-awaited provincial labour ministry report.

The report, released exclusively to the Citizen under Ontario’s freedom-of-information law, also says Groupe Berger, the Montreal-based owner of the stage, failed to properly protect the safety of stage workers.

The ministry report comes in two parts, one written by Health and Safety inspector Jason Gordon, the other by engineer Robert Molina, who said there was no inspection conducted by a licensed Ontario engineer either during the erection of the stage or after a windstorm at the Bluesfest site a week before the collapse.

According to the report, an onstage weather monitor revealed that the massive stage lifted and collapsed when the wind reached 117 kilometres an hour.

The crucial factor in the collapse, according to Molina, was Berger’s failure to remove side and rear wind walls when the winds began to pick up.

“The wind loads exerted on the stage as a result of not removing the side and rear walls exceeded the design parameters,” Molina wrote.

“Had the side and rear walls been removed as required at 80 km/h the stage would have resisted a wind event of 117 km/h,” Molina wrote.

Without the wind walls, he added, the stage was designed to resist winds up to 120 km/h.

Investigators said they were unable to find an operating manual with a procedure for removing the side and rear walls of the stage.

“It would seem that this procedure does not exist in written form since it was never provided to the Ministry of Labour,” Molina’s report says.

The stage, rented by Blues-fest from Groupe Berger, qualifies as a building under Ontario regulations and is subject to all of the same safety precautions, say the engineering report.

The report contains no criticism of the Bluesfest organization itself.

The giant stage, roughly 45 metres wide and 17 metres high, collapsed during a performance by American rock band Cheap Trick. Every other structure in the vicinity, including tents and video screens, remained upright and intact.

Three people required hospital treatment and others were treated for minor injuries. Two Cheap Trick trucks parked behind the stage broke its fall. Workers on and around the stage when it came down were initially convinced that the collapse had killed many people.

Both reports note that the violent storm that hit the stage a week before the collapse, just before a performance by the band Black Keys, was a crucial factor in what happened later. During that first storm, stage staff released pressure on the stage by cutting easily removed zip-ties or Bungee straps.

“When the walls were secured after this event,” writes safety inspector Gordon, “they were secured using a different method, including the use of cable ties. This caused a change in the procedure for release of the wind walls (no longer able to cut with knives). Witness statements indicate that “wind walls” were unable to be released as the stage hands were unable to cut or release the cable ties.

“Groupe Berger failed as an employer to take the reasonable precaution of releasing the wind walls despite being aware of the forecast for damaging winds, therefore failing to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.”

Engineer Molina also noted “a number of construction irregularities,” including segments of columns that were secured by fewer bolts than required, and the use of bolts of the wrong size.

“Although irregularities were not a direct cause of the stage collapse it demonstrates poor workmanship in the assembly of the stage,” he wrote. These were examples, he said, of “discrepancies between the engineered design of the stage and the actual assembly.”

Groupe Berger spokesman Stéphane Berger refused comment when contacted by the Citizen on Saturday, saying he’d have nothing to say until he had read the full ministry report. He gave a similar reply to an email sent to him Sunday outlining the report’s main points.

According to the health and safety report, Stéphane Berger personally “failed as a supervisor” by not warning stage hands that there was potential danger from the impending storm.

In a previous interview, Berger told the Citizen his company operates at the highest standards and since its mega-stage collapse has worked to strengthen safety procedures. It has continued to rent its stages to major events across Canada. Cheap Trick, however, has refused to play on Berger stages since the collapse.

Bluesfest executive director Mark Monahan did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

The health and safety report also says Groupe Berger failed to comply with an order after the collapse to provide the ministry with a copy of the “Operations Management Plan” specific to the stage and its set up at Bluesfest.

In all, Gordon’s report lists 19 Groupe Berger “failings” under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The ministry announced in July it would not be laying any charges in the collapse, but has not elaborated on how it reached that decision.

The ministry has redacted numerous documents and other exhibits for personal privacy reasons and removed entire documents it received from Groupe Berger after the company objected to them being released publicly. The documents include the contract between Berger and Bluesfest.

Also withheld was an internal memo that apparently contained legal advice from ministry lawyers.

Groupe Berger was criticized for its work when two of its scaffolding towers collapsed during preparations for a festival at Lévis, Que., in August 2011, a month or so after the Bluesfest stage collapse. In that case, Berger blamed the festival organizers and the organizers blamed Berger.

The Bluesfest stage collapse was one of several similar incidents – none involving Berger – that took place in North America and Europe, including a tragedy at the Indiana State Fair that killed seven and injured dozens of others during a storm. An investigation blamed the collapse on faulty construction and many of the injuries on poor emergency procedures. In June, a stage collapse north of Toronto killed a guitar technician prior to a concert by the English band Radiohead.

For its 2012 festival, Blues-fest rented its main stage from another company and introduced several new safety features, including the hiring of an independent on-site engineer and a private weather service.

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Portland schools end support for pregame bonfire tradition

By Gillian Graham, 11/21/12
Booster clubs have held the spirit rallies, but the district says there’s a risk of injury and property damage.

PORTLAND – A longtime tradition to stoke school spirit in the city has been extinguished.

Portland Public Schools will no longer support bonfires organized by athletic booster groups to rally team spirit before games because of concerns about safety and property damage.

The fires were traditionally held on the night before the annual Thanksgiving Day football game between Portland and Deering high schools.

The 101st Turkey Day Game will be played at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Deering held its bonfires on an athletic field at the school, while Portland High’s bonfires were held in an open space at Deering Oaks.

School officials said the decision to discontinue the fires was made because of the risk of injury and property damage.

The schools were notified of the decision last year, and Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk sent out a memo last week reinforcing the school district’s position.

“While Portland Public Schools generally supports community events and celebrations, we must consider individual’s safety and care of community property first and foremost,” Caulk wrote in the memo Nov. 16 to principals and athletic directors:

“Due to the inherent risks and costs of bonfires, we will no longer support the organizing of bonfires for the district.”

In the statement, Caulk said the school department’s insurance provider “strongly discourages” bonfires because of their risk for personal injury and property damage.

City workers have reported property damage in the past, though Caulk did not provide details in his memo.

School athletic fields are maintained by the city.

City Manager Mark Rees said the city was not involved in the school department’s discussions about ending the bonfires, but supports the decision.

In years past, bonfires were common at high schools across the state to drum up school spirit before games against rival schools.

“We have learned through conversations with other school districts that very few schools still hold bonfires,” Caulk said in the memo.

Officers of athletic booster groups for Portland and Deering could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mel Craig, athletic administrator at Deering High, said she has heard from other school employees that the field was damaged by bonfires, but she did not have details.

She said school officials are mindful that people may be upset by the decision to end bonfires.

“Portland has enjoyed a very rich tradition,” she said. “Anytime things change, some people are going to be disappointed by it.”

Mike Connolly, co-curricular director for Portland High, said he hasn’t heard any feedback about the decision from teachers, parents or students.

“I think people understand the liability side of the bonfire, but they also appreciate the tradition,” he said.

“There’s disappointment, but on some level, acceptance.”

Shoplift Suspect Dies in Confrontation With Walmart Workers

By Alyssa Newcomb 11/25/2012

A man suspected of shoplifting two DVD players from a Lithonia, Ga., Walmart today died after an altercation with two store employees and a contract security guard, prompting a police investigation.

The man, whose identity has not been released, exited through the front door of the store at 1:30 a.m. today and was confronted in the parking lot, according to DeKalb County police.

When officers arrived at the scene, they found the employees on top of the middle-aged man, according to a police report obtained by ABC News affiliate WSB-TV. When an officer bent down to handcuff the suspect, he noticed there was no resistance.

At that point, the officer noticed the suspect was bleeding from the nose and mouth, according to the report. He was transported to DeKalb Medical-Hillandale Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“This is truly a sad situation. We don’t know all of the facts right now. We’re in the process of working with law enforcement to determine all of the facts and cooperating and providing any information we have to assist in the investigation,” Dianna Gee, Walmart spokesperson, said in a statement issued to ABC News.

Gee said the contract security guard will no longer be providing services to the retailer. The two store employees have been suspended with pay while Walmart assists police in the investigation.

“Our associates are trained that the safety of our customers and our associates is our first priority,” Gee said. “No amount of merchandise is worth someone’s life. Associates are trained to disengage from situations that would put themselves or others at risk. That being said, this is still an active investigation and we’re working with police to provide any assistance.”–abc-news-topstories.html

Soccer Violence in Rome

Italy soccer attack stokes fears of neo-fascist violence
ReutersBy Naomi O’Leary | Reuters – Fri, Nov 23, 2012

* World Jewish Congress calls for Lazio suspension from European soccer

* Attack sparks row about safety of Jewish people in Rome

* Israeli ambassador says attack demonstrates rising racism in Europe (Adds details, quotes)

ROME, Nov 23 (Reuters) – A brutal attack on fans of English football club Tottenham Hotspur in Rome has stoked fears in Italy of rising right-wing and anti-Semitic violence.

Italy’s capital has been rattled by increasing militancy by the extreme right since October, with weekly demonstrations by the neo-fascist youth group Blocco Studentesco often ending in clashes with police.

Local media initially blamed Thursday’s attack on hard-core fans or ‘ultras’ supporting Lazio, who Tottenham had travelled to the capital to play in the Europa League.

But two supporters of AS Roma, Lazio’s bitter city rivals, were among the 15 detained for alleged involvement in the mass attack on a downtown bar, suggesting a possibly different motivation.

Tottenham have a large contingent of Jewish fans and witnesses told Italian media that masked men armed with knives and baseball bats shouted “Jews, Jews” as they laid siege to a pub where the Tottenham supporters were drinking in a district popular with tourists in an old quarter of Rome.

Ten people were injured in the attack, which left 25-year-old English fan Ashley Mills in a serious condition. He underwent surgery for a severed artery in his leg on Friday and was being monitored by doctors, the Rome hospital where he is being treated said.

Lazio issued a statement on Thursday saying any suggestion that the assailants were Lazio supporters was “totally groundless”.

Israeli ambassador to Italy Naor Gilon told reporters the attack on Spurs supporters, stemmed from “a new trend of anti-Semitism in Europe”.

The World Jewish Congress called on Friday for Lazio to be suspended from European soccer if they failed to take action against hard core anti-Semitic supporters.

Media reports said Lazio fans chanted “Juden Tottenham, Juden Tottenham” at the match on Thursday.


The violence has sparked a row about the safety of Jewish people in Rome.

The head of the city’s Jewish community, Ricardo Pacifici, said the attack showed Jews were not sufficiently protected.

Police commissioner Giuseppe Pecoraro rejected the accusation, which he called a provocation.

“The police do more for the Jewish community in Rome than anywhere else in the world,” he said.

Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno announced 21 million euros ($27 million) in funding for a Holocaust Museum “to give an immediate response to the many signs of anti-Semitism that have occurred recently in our city”.

Alemanno is himself a former neo-fascist youth leader who was greeted with fascist salutes and cries of “Duce! Duce!” – the term adopted by Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini – when he was elected mayor in 2008.

The European far right has gained increased support as the continent’s economic crisis has deepened, especially in the debt-laden south. Its most startling rise has been in the worst hit country, Greece, where the anti-immigrant Golden Dawn group has flourished.

Italy is no stranger to the trend.

Last week police arrested four people for allegedly inciting racial hatred through the website of the white supremacist movement Stormfront, confiscating a variety of weapons and neo-Nazi propaganda, after the group published a list of prominent Jewish citizens.

Teenagers carrying neo-fascist flags stormed a high school last month, tossing smoke bombs into classrooms as lessons were being taught, in a raid interpreted in Italy as an attempt by Blocco Studentesco to assert control over its turf.

Shortly afterwards a school due to host a meeting with local authorities about the “neo-fascist resurgence in schools” was daubed with swastikas, Celtic crosses and the word ‘Hitler’.

There is no suggestion the Blocco is linked to the attack on the Tottenham supporters.

“We are proud to be fascists,” the 18-year old Rome leader of the Blocco recently told Reuters in a suburban cafe, where swastikas had been scrawled across walls and furniture.

The movement venerates 1930s Italian dictator Mussolini but says it does not agree with his racial laws, which stripped Jews of Italian citizenship and barred them from holding government positions in 1938.


Israeli flags are a common sight among Tottenham supporters at matches, and fans refer to themselves in chants as the ‘yid army’.

Lazio have long had fans with extreme right-wing sympathies, notorious for making Nazi salutes, unfurling anti-Semitic banners and chanting racist insults against black players.

At the game on Thursday, which ended in a goalless draw, Lazio supporters unfurled a banner reading ‘Free Palestine’.

The English Football Association plans to send a report to European soccer’s governing body UEFA following alleged anti-Semitic chanting by Lazio fans during the match on Thursday. Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas has demanded an investigation.

Lazio was fined 40,000 euros for racist chanting against black players in another match against Tottenham in London in September. ($1 = 0.7761 euros) (Reporting by Naomi O’Leary; editing by Barry Moody/Mark Meadows)–sector.html

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