GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Grand Island business owner Karen Johnson found herself down on the ground at Keith Urban’s “Raise ’Em Up” concert at the Nebraska State Fair.
It was quite a surprise from what she had planned as the first of three State Fair concerts to attend this year.
“Quite frankly, I’m a State Fair fan,” Johnson said.
And she still is — despite the tumble that left her arm in a cast for 12 weeks, with the possibility of follow-up surgery.
Johnson said Aug. 29 was “a beautiful night” for the outdoor concert — just the second outdoor concert the State Fair had attempted since moving to Grand Island six years ago. The first outdoor concert the night before had featured Jerrod Niemann performing for a crowd of about 2,000.
The Urban concert drew 12,000 people, packing the racetrack infield.
Johnson went with a group of 12. About halfway through the concert, Johnson decided to head to the pit area to find her niece and nephew.
“I went up to talk to them briefly ... and my sister and brother-in-law were ahead of me and were coming back,” she said. “I turned to come back to where we had been standing ... and my foot hooked on the edge of the plywood and I tried to catch myself.”
Pieces of plywood had been placed across the grass infield to help with the movement of wheelchairs, said Joseph McDermott, State Fair executive director. But the plywood edges didn’t match up.
Johnson said the edges looked warped from moisture or weather exposure.
Johnson went down so hard and fast that she can’t even recall the actual impact. She just remembers trying to sit up and having severe pain in her left elbow.
A fast-acting good Samaritan — a person she would like to identify and thank — rushed to her side.
“I never did look at his face, but he was right there with me and held me real tight until the EMTs came,” Johnson said.
The stranger kept Johnson down and helped protect her from the crowd.
“There were rumors that I was trampled, but I was not,” she said. “People came around and shielded me.”
What she thought was a broken elbow was far worse.
“All that torque and force came up and broke my humerus in the middle, and then I’ve got 11 other fractures going on up into my shoulder,” she said.
Johnson, who is in her mid-50s, attributes the mishap to the plywood walkway — which she hopes won’t be used at future outdoor concerts.
McDermott said the plywood panels moved when people walked across them. He said the fair won’t use them again.
The fair had a limited supply of an interlocking hard surface that was used to form a walkway across the racetrack at both outdoor concerts. The racetrack covering was put down to keep track dirt from getting slippery if it got wet, McDermott said.
Other than breaking her arm, Johnson said what was most disappointing was that she wasn’t able to go back to the fair this year.
She’s looking forward to next year’s fair, which she hopes will have a few concert changes.
“I want it to be safe for everybody,” Johnson said.