Vortex operator 'absolutely devastated,' attorney says
Posted October 27, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.