Family injured on State Fair ride learning a 'new normal'
Posted April 10
Durham, N.C. — Kisha Gorham doesn’t remember much about the night of Oct. 24, when she was thrown off a ride at the North Carolina State Fair along with her husband, son and niece.
But she remembers the sound.
“The one thing that is a constant memory is a loud bang, and that was my head hitting the platform,” Gorham said.
What began as a fun family outing ended in a nightmare when The Vortex – a ride known for its wild twirls and flips – started moving as people were getting off. A criminal investigation found that a safety mechanism designed to keep the ride from activating had been disabled.
Five people were seriously injured, including Gorham, her husband, Anthony Gorham, her teenage son, Justen Hunter, and niece Shykeyma Dempsey. An attorney for the family filed a lawsuit Thursday against Powers Great American Midways, which brought the ride to the fair, and Family Attractions Amusement LLC, which operated it.
They are seeking $150 million in damages.
Anthony Gorham suffered brain, skull, neck and spinal cord injuries. He has had several surgeries, including brain surgery this week, and lost sight in one eye.
“My husband has gone from being head of the household, a loving, affectionate, outgoing man, to pretty much being a shell of himself now,” Kisha Gorham said. “My son is the same way. He was an outgoing, fun-loving kid, and he has nightmares. He went from being on honor (roll) to his grades are bad. He’s not himself.”
Neither is her niece.
The 24-year-old Dempsey was studying to be a nurse, but she said her back injury has left her struggling with balance and chronic pain.
“How do you get a job and say I have these restrictions?” she said. “Who really wants to hire you?”
The ride's operator, Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, and owner, Joshua Gene Macaroni, both of Quitman, Ga., have been charged with three counts each of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious bodily injury. Both are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Macaroni's attorney has said the evidence in the case will show that his client was out of state at the time of the accident. Tutterrow's lawyer has said his client would never have intentionally harmed anyone.
Willie E. Gary, the attorney representing the family, said Thursday the lawsuit isn’t about money. He wants to send a message to the defendants.
“No matter who you are, how big you are, how much money you have or what your resources are, you cannot put profits over the safety of people,” he said during a news conference at the Durham County Courthouse.
Gary said he wants to bring those responsible “to their knees.”
“I have been trying cases for 40 years, and I’ve never seen this kind of gross negligence that was a total disregard for the safety and welfare of the patrons that went to the North Carolina State Fair,” he said.
A representative for Family Attractions said in a statement Thursday that a flat fee was paid to have The Vortex at the fair, regardless of how many people rode it or how long it operated.
“As Mr. Gary acknowledged, this was a tragic accident. Our hearts go out to the Gorham family,” Joyce Fitzpatrick said. "Family Attractions Amusement is a small, family-owned company with an excellent safety record. Despite reports to the contrary, the company does not own or operate the Vortex."
Macaroni, the owner of the ride, is the son of Dominic and Ruby Macaroni, the owners of Family Attractions, Fitzpatrick said.
Kisha Gorham said she’s found strength in faith, family and friends. She thanked the community for contributions to a fundraising website that has collected more than $15,000 in donations to help with mounting medical expenses.
The Gorhams, who have two other children, were both social workers and lost their incomes since the incident.
The family has also lost peace of mind. Kisha Gorham said she cannot drive past the fairgrounds in Raleigh without her heart racing.
“I have come to accept the fact that my family has to have a new normal,” she said. “We can’t go back to the things we used to do – not all of them – but we are learning to have a new normal.”