Ride operator arrested in connection with State Fair accident
Posted October 26, 2013
Updated October 27, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — The investigation into Thursday's ride accident at the North Carolina State Fair has led to the arrest of a Georgia man who authorities say operated the ride.
Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Ga., was jailed Saturday under a $225,000 bond on three felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious bodily injury, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison announced at a news conference Saturday.
"We determined that it had been tampered with, and critical safety devices were compromised," Harrison said.
He added that it appeared the tampering was "probably to keep the ride operating" but would not comment further about Tutterrow's involvement other than to say he was the operator and foreman of the Vortex ride.
The investigation is continuing, and additional arrests are possible, Harrison said.
Five people were injured in the accident shortly after 9 p.m. on the lower midway behind the Expo Center.
Witness accounts indicated the Vortex had stopped and people were getting off when it restarted, authorities said.
The victims, which included a ride attendant, were taken to WakeMed. Two have been released, and three – Anthony Gorham, 29; Kisha Gorham, 39; and a 14-year-old juvenile who is also in the same family – remained hospitalized Saturday.
Neither Harrison nor State Fair officials would comment on their injuries.
"It makes me mad to think that anybody would put people's safety in danger like they have, and I'm not mad, I'm furious," State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. "I can't hardly stand it, and that's where my patience runs thin."
Tutterrow is a four-year employee of Family Attractions Company, an independent ride contractor out of Valdosta, Ga., that was hired by Powers Great American Midways to provide the Vortex at this year's fair.
The Vortex is the only ride the company has at the fair.
Troxler said he was confident in the safety of the fair's other rides but that fair officials would probably thoroughly examine the ride policy to determine if any changes should be made for next year.
"I think this is an isolated incident," he said. "I remain confident that Powers Great American is a great, great carnival operator."
Joyce Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman for Family Attractions, said in a statement Sunday that the company has "an excellent equipment safety record and has never before experienced an incident with any of its rides like this one."
WRAL News, however, discovered that it has had three unspecified injury accidents in Georgia, and federal records show company transport trucks had safety issues at a rate well above the national average.
According to a description of the Vortex, the main arm is hydraulically lifted to a 30-degree angle, and the V-shaped center of the ride starts rotating while car arms on each side spin, twirl and flip passengers upside down.
The Vortex ride was shut down and won't restart before the fair ends Sunday night, fair spokesman Brian Long said.
People on the midway Saturday night were stunned to learn of the arrest.
"It's shocking because you would think they would be more careful with things like that because people's lives could be at risk," said Kia Owens of Fayetteville.
"Our kids really enjoy riding these rides and it makes me very uncomfortable to know that someone is doing something that's very unsafe," said fair-goer Pam Owens.