WRAL Investigates

'Flying and falling': Parents question State Fair's safety after daughter's accident

Posted November 12, 2014

— One minute, their 12-year-old daughter was happily flying in the air at the North Carolina State Fair. The next, she was falling 10 feet to the ground, crying and asking why.

“You heard a snap, and then you heard a snapping of cords,” said Rich Gallagher.

“It sounded like something broke,” said his wife, Renee Gallagher.

Brigitte Gallagher, of Raleigh, fell while on the bungee jump on Oct. 17 at this year’s State Fair. The cable holding her unraveled and sent her plummeting to the ground, leaving her with serious injuries, including a broken foot that will require multiple surgeries.

“I was up on the ride, and it broke and it dropped me behind the pad,” she said. “It kind of felt like I was flying and then falling and everything at once … I kind of hit feet first, and then I kind of rolled backwards.”

Brigitte’s accident marks the second time in two years that someone has been seriously injured at the State Fair. On Oct. 24, 2013, five people were injured when The Vortex – a ride known for its wild twirls and flips – started moving while people were getting off and dropped some unsecured passengers 20 feet onto the ride's metal floor.

A criminal investigation found that a safety mechanism designed to keep the ride from moving had been disabled. The ride's operator, Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, and owner, Joshua Macaroni, were later arrested in the case.

What is different about Brigitte’s case, though, is that fair officials quietly investigated her accident outside of the media spotlight. Her story has not been reported until now.

Brigitte’s parents say it’s the lingering emotional trauma of the accident that they can't seem to get past. Rich Gallagher remembers his heart dropping as he watched his daughter fall. His wife, a normally polite, unflustered woman, says she began shoving strangers aside to get to her daughter.

"I was a crazy person, pushing people out of the way," Renee Gallagher said. “I was on my feet as soon as I heard the snap. I was on my feet before she was even dropping, and when I got to her, she was just on the ground shaking, (saying), ‘Mommy, why did it drop me?’”

The impact of the fall broke the second metatarsal bone on the top of Brigitte's left foot. She also suffered a torn ligament and broke one of her braces. Doctors surgically implanted a plate and six screws in her foot, but she will eventually need more surgery to remove the hardware, her parents say. For now, Brigitte is in a wheelchair to keep her weight off her foot. She’ll soon get a cast and then a boot when she moves to crutches.

The recovery process will be long and has already caused Brigitte, a seventh-grader at The Franciscan School in Raleigh, to miss out on competitive diving and social activities, including her first middle school dance, pumpkin carving with her art club and trick-or-treating at Halloween.

An investigative report by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture cited a man who witnessed Brigitte's accident. He said he thought a cable on the bungee jump malfunctioned. The operator of the amusement said the motor failed to capture the cable when it was supposed to.

The Department of Agriculture has turned over its findings to the state Department of Labor. A spokeswoman for the labor department said the investigation is ongoing and the findings will be released when the report is complete. The labor department is responsible for inspecting rides when they are set up. The rides are then supposed to be inspected three times a day by the operators.

“It would’ve been inspected before it could even operate at the fair,” said State Fair spokesman Brian Long. “That’s the thing about North Carolina’s ride safety standards – they’re among the most strict in the country.”

Long says Brigitte’s accident was the only one reported at the fair this year.

“It appears there was some sort of mechanical failure with the device, which led to the accident,” he said. "We're wishing Miss Gallagher a speedy recovery from her injury."

The bungee attraction Brigitte was injured on is owned by Pam McDonald of Reddick, Fla., who was under contract with Powers Great American MidWays to bring the attraction to the fair. WRAL Investigates spoke with McDonald, who declined to comment. Powers Great American MidWays did not respond to repeated requests for a response.

Long says the bungee ride was fixed after Brigitte’s accident. It was re-inspected and allowed to continue operating for the rest of the fair. While Brigitte’s injuries weren’t as severe as those suffered on The Vortex a year earlier, her parents and their attorney say it brings ride safety into question again.

“Two years in row now there's been accidents, serious accidents, where children have been injured at the State Fair, and this really needs to stop,” said Raleigh attorney Mike Maurer. “The right thing to do for the future and other children would be the inspect these things better or not allow them to take place on the property at all.”

“When kids go to a State Fair, they have every expectation that the rides are going to be safe,” he added. “The parents also have that same expectation.”

Long says they should still have that expectation. Nearly 930,000 people attended this year’s State Fair, which lasted 11 days and featured more than 100 rides

“Because of this intense scrutiny, people can feel confident that they can come to the fair and ride the rides enjoy themselves and do it safely,” Long said.

The Gallaghers aren't convinced.

“The first thing (Brigitte) said to me is, "Dad, I don't ever want to come back here,’” said Rich Gallagher. “That is sad. It's supposed be a family fun event.”


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Cindy Rose Nov 13, 2014
    user avatar

    I, too, am sorry this young lady was injured; however, I think this is well on its way to being blown out of proportion. Personally, I don't trust rubber bands; I don't do bungie anything. I have ridden the rides at the North Carolina State Fair completely safely for decades as has my child. Risk is part of the thrill with amusement rides. This young lady stands a good chance of a much more severe injury as a competition diver & my child on horseback but it doesn't stop her parents or me from letting our children engage in risky activities; they're part of life & living.

  • Joe Simpson Nov 13, 2014
    user avatar

    Kudos to the NC State Fair for having only one serious injury among almost a million attendees over 11 days! That is a truly stellar safety record. Anyone who thinks otherwise is in need of a serious reality check.

  • dh1964 Nov 13, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Who said anything about a lawsuit? You're defaming these people for things you've imagined they did.

  • Angie Cox Nov 13, 2014
    user avatar

    I can't believe the parents didn't have enough common sense to not let her ride anything at the fair. these rides go up and are taken down way too quick for anyone to be riding them. Such a tough lesson to learn. But she will be ok. I was in a car wreck and was casted on every limb but one leg and I survived....

  • Barbara Horton Nov 13, 2014
    user avatar

    Sorry this happened and that she is injured. It must have been very scary. However, there are risks associated with every activity in life. These rides are inspected. They are inspected prior to use, and during use at our fair. Things happen. To me, its much more scary to get in my car an deal with the Raleigh traffic everyday than to get on the rides at the fair, or any other amusement park for that matter. People around here drive like fools, even on a clear day. I hope she recovers and is feeling better soon.

  • lissad821 Nov 13, 2014

    Isn't a 12 year old too big to be on the bungee jumping ride anyway??? Looks like someone just wanting to cash in. She could have attended the dance and pumpkin carving in the wheelchair. I work in ortho and she could have injured that jumping on the trampoline at home....would they have sued the trampoline company too??

  • Sean Creasy Nov 13, 2014
    user avatar

    In my opinion as a 26yr. heavy equipment mechanic, everyone who gets on these rides should already (or their parents) know that there is ALWAYS some risk that there might be a malfunction (I.E. pin breaks, keepers not in right, bolt shearing, weld fatigue, etc.) and that injury is possible. That is part of the excitement of riding such rides although no one admits it. Sooner or later things like this happen and, while tragic, they aren't surprises. These factors combined with the skill level of the people normally hired to assemble and disassemble them on a regular basis (usually 1 experienced person supervising 4 to 5 UNexperienced) is the main reason I personally NEVER ride any..

  • Doug Hanthorn Nov 13, 2014
    user avatar

    Do you think you could keep this story going for another few weeks? Jeez o flip!

  • busyb97 Nov 13, 2014

    The risks are probably higher at events like these, where rides are up and down so often, BUT, this can just as easily have happened at Busch Gardens or Disney (and they probably have). You're just as likely to get very sick eating at the food-trucks set up throughout the fair, or walking through the barns (remember the years of E.Coli outbreaks?). Life has risks. You either do the best you can to stay safe, or you hide from it. And even then, in your home, there are dangers (guy last week whose house blew up?).

    If the rider operator/owner was a fault, they should be held responsible, but don't "throw the baby out with the bathwater".

    I'm sorry she got hurt, and it scared her so bad. I cannot imagine. But this is one of those life lesson moments and how you deal with it now, can have a big impact in the future (running scared, or learn to deal). Hope she gets better soon.

  • Pibble_Lvr Nov 13, 2014

    Not that this is not a horrible thing to happen but if you think about how may people rode rides this year 1 incident is actually not that bad statistically speaking. When going to any park with rides there is always a risk if injury. There are just too many moving parts for them to check more than once a day. Also add a person and there is more room for error.