North Carolina State Fair

Vortex operator 'absolutely devastated,' attorney says

Posted October 27, 2013

— The attorney for a ride operator at the North Carolina State Fair says his client is "absolutely devastated" about what happened last week when five people were injured after a ride called the Vortex suddenly jolted into gear as people were exiting, dropping some riders from heights that eyewitnesses estimated to be 20 or 30 feet.

Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Ga., faces three criminal counts of assault with a deadly weapon in the case. He was being held in the Wake County jail Sunday on $225,000 bond and was due in court Monday for a first appearance.

"He is absolutely devastated and distraught about what happened," attorney Roger W. Smith Jr. told WRAL News Sunday night. "His thoughts and prayers go out to those injured and their families."

Three people – Anthony Gorham, 29; Kisha Gorham, 39; and a 14-year-old juvenile who is also in the same family – remained hospitalized Sunday, although their conditions were not being released.

Authorities arrested Tutterrow Saturday after their investigation found someone tampered with the Vortex ride on the lower midway Thursday night.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said at a news conference Saturday that it appeared the tampering was "probably to keep the ride operating," but he would not comment further about the case.

Smith said Sunday he could not comment on the case.

Sunday marked the final day of the fair, and state officials estimated that attendance for the final weekend was down compared to the final weekend of last year's fair.

Attendance Friday was 82,136, 11 percent less than the same time last year but still 4,000 above the 10-year average. Figures for Saturday's and Sunday's attendance wasn't available Sunday night.

While that may have been partly due to colder nighttime temperatures, the injuries probably factored into the decline, said spokesman Brian Long of the state agriculture department, which runs the fair.

"I do understand that this incident may have given some people pause," he said.

He said no further safety measures have been taken for the 100 other rides.

It is uncommon for ride operators to be criminally charged, but safety consultant Ken Martin told The Associated Press that he chalks that up to the industry being largely self-regulated in most states.

"If more incidents on amusement rides were investigated as thoroughly as this ride in North Carolina is being investigated, there's quite possibly the opportunity that more criminal cases would come out," said Martin, owner of KRM Consulting in Richmond, Va., which conducts amusement ride inspections in Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Missouri. "The folks in North Carolina, they don't pussyfoot around when it comes to amusement ride safety."

The North Carolina State Fair is known in the industry for its requirement that everything on an amusement ride has to operate or the ride does not move.

Several ride inspectors are on the grounds of the Raleigh event daily watching operators and equipment to make sure everything is in order, Martin said.

The Vortex had at least one other technical problem at the North Carolina fair.

A safety switch that keeps the ride from operating unless seat restraints are engaged malfunctioned on Monday. The ride was temporarily idled as workers replaced the switch, but it reopened Monday night after being tested, state inspectors said.

The Vortex was supplied by Family Attractions Amusement Co. LLC of Valdosta, Ga. The company "has never had an incident with a machine like this before," spokeswoman Joyce Fitzpatrick said.

She said the company's representatives can't explain what happened because they have not been allowed to review the inspection records, which are kept inside the ride, Fitzpatrick said. The ride has been closed since Thursday's injuries.

The Labor Department said its inspectors performed safety checks on all the rides before the fair opened.

Ride operators are supposed to do three daily operational checks and record those in a log, said Tom Chambers, the chief of the department's ride inspection unit. State inspectors then perform checks of the logs to confirm operators are complying with the rules.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recorded 875 injuries associated with amusement rides in 2012, up from 774 injuries the previous year.

The cases included people who needed emergency-department treatment for injuries associated with fixed rides in theme parks, mobile rides associated with carnivals or fairs, or inflatable slides or bouncy cabins.

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  • btneast Oct 29, 2013

    I'd assume these people are getting paid a flat rate for working all week and that feeling pressured to keep rides open to make a paycheck wouldn't really be a factor.

    You know what happens when you "assume"? You would be wrong in this case. Get in the real world, the operator makes more money the more tickets that are sold, so of course they pay the operators likewise. Mechanics get paid by the amount of work they do too, not just a flat rate per week. We ALL are judged in the workplace by our productivity, some of us get immediate payouts in the form of commission, others get it once a year in a bonus.....and some are too timid and settle for a flat wage. Rest assured, even if you are on a salary or a flat rate, if you aren't "producing" to expectations, you won't be around long.

  • exador7 Oct 28, 2013

    Let him go,,, He didn't think he was doing any wrong... It's okay,, No ones perfect.. it's all good..

  • Comments Oct 28, 2013

    "He's only devastated for himself. I consider what he did an act of terrorism."

    Terrorism….REALLY??? What political agenda was he trying to influence….that's a component of terrorism. It is bad, but this is not terrorism. See definition below:

    Terrorism: The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

  • snowl Oct 28, 2013

    Bringing in this style of thrill ride to the NC State Fair was a bad idea. I'm sure they thought it would attract more young folks who want this type of adrenaline rush, however, it backfired.
    I hope the family who was injured will recover nicely.... the lawyers are lining up now.

  • monami Oct 28, 2013

    The "3 inspections a day" is NOT TRUE. Read again. The State has explained this "self-inspection" process (by the operators, not inspectors!) after being asked by a reporter to elaborate. That's like the fox guarding the henhouse. At the first presser, the State, in my opinion, misrepresented their "3 inspections a day" in their initial statement.

    Lots o' politics involved in this fair - it was clear they were desperate to keep the crowds coming. "My grandkids will be riding these rides tonight!" was the standard line. (Wonder if their parents agreed!)

  • sinenomine Oct 28, 2013

    It's easy, macy, how this guy is able to afford Mr. Smith. I have no doubt it is the company which owns the ride which has hired the attorney. That company is potentially on the hook for a tremendous lawsuit before all this is over.

    Smith is a fine attorney and his representation of Cook, the now former drunk-driving doctor who killed the ballerina, was masterful. I do have to laugh, though, when he says this new client is "devastated" over the incident. Cook was supposedly devastated too but never showed it and to the best of my knowledge has never made any public statement apologizing for his horrendous conduct.

    It should be interesting to see how this case plays out.

  • golorealist Oct 28, 2013

    "Sounds like something is missing don't you think? ( like 3 inspecters missed some kind of tampering ? I'm thinking there are more responsible in some way, shape or form." - feistyredhead2001

    who is to say that tutterow was not only the guy that tampered with the ride but also the guy that inspected it three times per day.

  • macy Oct 28, 2013

    How can a carnie afford Roger Jr.?????

  • feistyredhead2001 Oct 28, 2013

    itsmyownopinion & sidecutter.... I'm saying you all should read and re read urtwopid comments. I don't think this guy should be charged alone. If the rides are inspected properly 3 times a day like they said some one else didnt do their jobs is what I am saying... and ONE man is being charged with all this??? Sounds like something is missing don't you think? ( like 3 inspecters missed some kind of tampering ? I'm thinking there are more responsible in some way, shape or form.

  • edtomjr Oct 28, 2013

    Could they shed some more light on how the fair works in terms of how these operators are paid? Do they stand to lose out on money if people are not giving them tickets to ride something they are operating? It would help in order to understand if there was some sort of motive or reasoning behind keeping a ride open if it wasn't totally functional. I'd assume these people are getting paid a flat rate for working all week and that feeling pressured to keep rides open to make a paycheck wouldn't really be a factor. If they do get paid on ride attendance then maybe they need to reevaluate their system, as it opens the door for situations like this.

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