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Vecta Group Bleachers Collapse at Colorado School

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A woman who sustained a skull fracture was among six people hospitalized after bleachers manufactured by The Vecta Group Inc. collapsed beneath them during May 25 graduation ceremonies at the Fowler (Colo.) High School. At least 10 others suffered minor injuries in the collapse.

The accident is at least the ninth in the last seven years to be attributed to bleachers manufactured before 1977 by The Vecta Group or by Interkal Inc. of Kalamazoo, Mich., which took over the Vecta bleacher product line in 1974. (See Education Week, May 10, 1989.)

Larry N. Vibber, superintendent of the Fowler schools, said about 1,000 students, parents, and other spectators were watching the close of the graduation ceremony in the high school's auditorium when two or three rows "sort of caved in like an accordian," causing several of the bleachers' occupants to tumble about eight feet to the floor.

Brenda Boddy, 34, of Woodland Park, Colo., was in stable condition last week at Parkview Episcopal Medical Center in Pueblo after undergoing treatment in the hospital's neurological intensive-care unit for a fracture of the skull, a hospital spokesman said.

Mr. Vibber said five others who had been sitting on the bleacher were treated and released at local hospitals and 10 to 15 more were treated for cuts, bruises, and other minor injuries at the scene.

"The crowd really remained very, very calm" during the incident, he said.

Cause Under Investigation

Mr. Vibber said last week that the cause of the collapse was being investigated by his insurance company and local safety inspectors.

Richard L. Patterson, vice president of Interkal, said his company also planned to send engineers to inspect the site. "We are certainly concerned about it," he said.

Mr. Vibber said one of the bleacher seats that collapsed was described by spectators as being wobbly during the ceremony. He said bent underframe safety hooks may have caused the collapse.

The Vecta Educational Corporation bleachers had been installed at the school in the fall of 1974 and had been inspected every summer since then, Mr. Vibber said.

He said he had heeded notification from the company warning of possible problems if the bleachers were not properly maintained and had trained maintenance workers set them up for the graduation ceremony.

Altogether, more than 220 students have been hurt in collapses of bleachers manufactured by Interkal or Vecta, although most of the injuries have been minor.

The most recent major collapse, at Maurice J. McDonough High School in Charles County, Md., last September, sent 83 students to local hospitals. School officials said attorneys for parents and students have indicated that lawsuits against the district may be pending.

Interkal's president, Francis J. Hubbell, said in a letter published in the May 31 issue of Education Week that the company is not legally liable for products manufactured prior to 1981, when he and three other managers purchased the Interkal name and bleacher line.

But he said Interkal would assist school officials in having their bleachers inspected through its distributor network. "There will most likely be a nominal cost for this service," he wrote.

Interkal's product line was redesigned in 1977 to modernize the bleachers and improve their structural integrity, according to Mr. Hubbell.

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