Local News

Family injured on State Fair ride learning a 'new normal'

Posted April 10, 2014

— 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.”


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  • clintoflannagan Apr 11, 2014

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    Actually, you are both wrong. There's not a "formula" for pain and suffering. It sometimes makes up a huge part of a particular claim and other times makes up a very small part of a claim, depending on the case.

    And there's also not a cap on pain and suffering, except in the context of medical malpractice cases. This is not a medical malpractice case.

    There is, however, a cap on punitive damages which is $250,000.00 or three times compensatory damages, whichever is greater.

    So Mr. Gary's reliance on punitive damages to get him anywhere near $150 million is misguided.

  • Fanny Chmelar Apr 11, 2014
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    Interesting question, I wouldn't be surprised to see more lawsuits, unless the ride's insurance has already taken care of the minor cases...

  • Cheree Teasley Apr 11, 2014
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    She was going to be a nurse, not she has balance and serious back problems, I'd believe it because she fell and suffered a full impact to the metal floor of the ride, which could have killed them all.

    Nurses work very long hours on thier feet. There isn't a "What I can do is...." if the can't is standing and walking continuously for a very long shift. So, now she'll have to look for a job within her limitations, at the very least she may have to change her career.

    Considering the ages of those involved (fairly young), and the number of them involved (the whole family) with life time injuries that invovle expensive treatments.... the number is fair. 100% fair for smething that was 100% the handlers fault.

  • Don Dickerson Apr 11, 2014
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    You're right, you're not an attorney. There's generally a cap on "pain and suffering" that's related to actual estimated costs of medical services plus any potential loss of earnings (actual damages). I can't even begin to remember what NC's laws allow right now, but the "big winner" here is punitive damages. When it was discovered that a safety had been disabled, the gloves came off and now the owner of the ride, operator of the ride, inspectors, bond holder, and insurers (all the way up to those who insure the state and the Fairgrounds) are on the hook. That's where $150m comes from. I'm not for limiting our rights to sue negligent operations in any way, and really can't say that as a warning to others that it's "too much". My question is how many others were still on the ride or had just gotten off? Any other suits from this?

  • 68_dodge_polara Apr 11, 2014

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    How is that? No one intentionally hurt the riders. What the operator did was defeated automated safeties then screwed up in such way that the automated safeties which they removed would have prevented. Same as actively dialling a cell phone behind the wheel or drinking knowing one will be driving home. Actions have consequences and sometimes it's the innocent that end up suffering the consequences.

  • Ryan Kurtz Apr 11, 2014
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    I'm not an attorney, but I work with them, so I know a little about this. The "pain and suffering" aspect of these type of payouts is ridiculous. What attorneys do is compile how much that person was making in terms of money, how much they would probably have made in terms of pay increase if they had stuck with that job, bills they were paying, medical bills that will have to be paid over a life-time, etc., etc. etc. The formulas are sometimes different, but center around the same thing. So you take all that, and then include the astronomical figure for "pain and suffering", and that makes up generally 50% of the payout. These numbers are nothing more than to line the pockets for the clients obviously, but it's gold mine for the attorneys.

  • iopsyc Apr 11, 2014

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    That's apples and oranges.

  • 68_dodge_polara Apr 11, 2014

    150 million, seriously? Just think if any one here had say been yaking on a cell phone on I 40 and caused a wreck (not an accident) that injured this family. I have a suspicion many here would be singing a different tune about the 150 million figure.

  • WilliamCasie Price Apr 10, 2014
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    I am glad they all survived and think they should be awarded the settlement because of the situations. Regardless of if they can work again like they could before what they went through was life changing outside of the medical problems now. BUT all this said at least they still have each other.

  • meeper Apr 10, 2014

    I wonder if they were contacted by any lawyers after the accident?