Plea agreement reached in fatal circus tent collapse

By Barbara Tetreault

LANCASTER — Walker International Events has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $25,000 fine to resolve all criminal charges against it in the 2015 fatal circus tent collapse. A father and daughter were killed and scores of people were injured when the tent went down during a show.

A notice of intent to plead guilty to all eight criminal charges was filed Tuesday. The plea agreement calls for a $25,000 fine with a $10,000 lump payment to be made when the plea is approved and monthly payments of $250. Walker is also prohibited from operating in the state of New Hampshire. A hearing on the plea is scheduled for March 8 in Coos County Superior Court.

The Sarasota, Fla., company, which has gone out of business, faced up to $240,000 in fines. The most serious charge was a felony count of knowingly operating a place of assembly with more than 50 people in attendance without a required license. The misdemeanor counts included reckless conduct, violations of fire control regulations, allowing an unlicensed minor to juggle pins with fire coming out of them without a permit.

Other complaints allege the circus did not have properly marked exits, used a fryolator within the tent in violation of the state fire code, failed to notify the state fire marshal before constructing the tent and failed to construct the tent in accordance with the state building code.

The tent collapsed shortly before the afternoon show got underway when a microburst struck with heavy rain, lighting and winds that reached gusts of 75 miles per hour. Just before the show got underway, the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the region.

In November, Walker reached a settlement with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which cited it for 14 violations of workplace safety standards. Walker agreed to correct the violations and pay $24,000 in fines.