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updated: 8/16/2011 11:46 AM

Doctor at Indiana stage collapse: 'The injured were screaming'

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  • Dr. Dean Silas on Monday discussed his actions during the deadly stage collapse over the weekend at the Indiana State Fair. Silas, who practices at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, performed CPR, treated injuries and helped remove people trapped under stage rigging.

       Dr. Dean Silas on Monday discussed his actions during the deadly stage collapse over the weekend at the Indiana State Fair. Silas, who practices at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, performed CPR, treated injuries and helped remove people trapped under stage rigging.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Dean Silas

      Dean Silas

 
 

Dr. Dean Silas deals with digestive systems, and he hasn't worked in an emergency room for decades.

But he knows first aid, and that was useful Saturday as he and others went from spectator to rescuer when tragedy struck the Indiana State Fair.

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A gust of wind up to 70 mph blew metal rigging, lights and speakers from the stage onto the crowd waiting for a concert by Sugarland, killing five and injuring dozens, some critically.

Silas, who is head of gastroenterology at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, said back home Monday he helped perform CPR on one victim and was part of teams that used tables and pallet-like contraptions to carry others injured to a makeshift triage area under the fair's grandstand.

He also carried a young woman with a leg injury to a safe place "before we were smart enough to find tables." He checked another woman with back pain, determining it was probably a muscular injury rather than spinal damage.

Unfortunately, Silas said at a news conference at the hospital Monday, he saw two people who were covered with plastic because someone else had already determined they were dead.

"The injured were screaming, and all the spectators were screaming," he said. "Many of those people stayed behind to help. Crushing injuries are what I saw."

The doctor also helped a group that was trying to lift a huge piece of scaffolding that had trapped a victim.

"We couldn't lift the speakers," Silas said. "They were much too large."

Silas, a Deerfield resident, and his wife, Jeannie, were at the state fair with their daughter Jessica, who lives in Indianapolis. They were in the grandstand and thought they would be safe from thunderstorms moving across the prairie. If he had been on the infield close to the stage, he would have stayed there, he said, not giving up such a spot just because rain was coming.

"There had been no breeze at all," said the doctor. "My wife was fanning herself throughout the first concert."

Then a cloud of dust blew up from the infield, and in 10 to 15 seconds, the stage collapsed.

"It fell so slowly; it looked like slow motion" Silas said. "You expect it to be in a movie. I knew that people were crushed. I decided I should go down."

While the doctor said he couldn't judge whether the area should have been evacuated before the wind struck, he does think the stage rigging -- which he estimates was 60 feet tall -- should have been strong enough to withstand 10 seconds of wind.

Silas said he was impressed, however, with the work of the rescuers he worked alongside for 30 to 40 minutes after the collapse.

"I stayed until all the people had been moved out of the infield into triage and it was clear the EMTs were there and I couldn't contribute anything more," he said. "A lot of people -- health professionals and nonprofessionals -- came to the aid of victims. There was a great sense of trying to help."

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