State Fair ride operator makes first court appearance
Posted October 28, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — A ride operator facing assault charges over injuries from a ride at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh made his first appearance in court Monday, with the Wake County district attorney saying there are still unanswered questions about what happened.
Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Ga., faces three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting serious injury. Each count is punishable by up to eight years in prison.
Wake County District Court Judge Keith Gregory declined a request during the brief hearing to lower Tutterrow's $225,000 bond.
The defendant, dressed in an orange and white striped jumpsuit, was taken back to jail in handcuffs.
Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison said investigators determined the ride had been intentionally tampered with, though authorities have provided no details of the evidence against Tutterrow.
District Attorney Colon Willoughby would not comment on a motive Monday afternoon but said investigators don't believe that Tutterrow was targeting anyone specifically.
The "Vortex" jolted into motion Thursday evening as people were exiting, dropping riders from heights eyewitnesses estimated at up to 30 feet.
Anthony Gorham, 29, Kisha Gorham, 39, and an unidentified 14-year-old – remained hospitalized at WakeMed Monday afternoon.
Their conditions are unclear; they have asked for that information not be released at this time.
Two other people were treated and released from the hospital.
Willoughby said in court he would personally handle Tutterrow's prosecution and that more charges could come as the investigation moves forward.
"There are still some unanswered questions we are trying to get to the bottom of," Willoughby said. "These are very serious charges and we want to make sure we are proceeding in the right way."
Tutterrow's lawyer, Roger W. Smith Jr., said Sunday that his client is a loving husband and father.
"It is such a tragedy what happened and he's just reeling from that," Smith said. "He's devastated and distraught. All his thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured."
Smith wouldn't comment about details of the case or if money played a role in the case. Ride operators and the state both benefit from the number of people who ride the rides.
"I don't think it's appropriate for me, right now, to talk about the facts about what happened," he said.
Tutterrow's wife and several members of his family, who traveled from south Georgia to Raleigh for Monday's hearing, declined to comment on the case as they left the courtroom.
Records show Tutterrow was arrested in Georgia in 2002 on a felony charge of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to four years of probation under a program for first-time offenders, according to records.
He was also arrested in 1997 in Kentucky on a charge of possessing cocaine. Details of how that charge was resolved by the court were not immediately available.
Smith said he knew nothing of those prior charges.
"What I can tell you is that Tim Tutterrow is a good man and he would never intentionally harm anyone," Smith said.
Sheriff's investigators said Monday that, even though the fair is over, the Vortex will remain on the state fairgrounds for at least the rest of this week, as it is still considered an active crime scene.
The ride had at least one other technical problem at the State 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 ride was supplied by Family Attractions Amusement Co. LLC of Valdosta, Ga. Smith said Tutterrow had worked for the company for several years.
Family Attractions was a subcontractor of Powers Great American Midways, a New York company hired by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture to provide rides at the state fair, which ended Sunday night.
Inspectors with the North Carolina Department of Labor 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.
A Labor Department spokeswoman said Monday that officials are reviewing operational procedures before deciding if any of them need to be changed.