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Ride operator pleads guilty in Vortex case

Posted June 1, 2015

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— The operator of a ride that malfunctioned and injured a family at the 2013 North Carolina State Fair pleaded guilty Monday to charges of assault with a deadly weapon, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said.

Timothy Tutterrow, 48, admitted to altering the ride called The Vortex and has been cooperating with authorities since the investigation began.

"Tim has just accepted responsibility and cooperated from the get-go on this case," his lawyer, Roger Smith Jr., said.

"That will serve him well with this court," Judge Donald Stephens noted during Monday's hearing.

Tutterrow and ride owner Joshua Gene Macaroni are each charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. In pleading guilty to the charges as they stand, Tutterrow agreed to testify against Macaroni if necessary, his lawyer said.

Sentencing was expected at a later date, Freeman said.

Five people were injured on Oct. 24, 2103, when the ride started up unexpectedly as people were trying to disembark. Anthony Gorham suffered brain, skull, neck and spinal cord injuries as a result and spent nearly four months in a local hospital. His wife, Alisha Gorham, and her son and her niece were also seriously injured.

The family sued Powers Great American Midways, which ran the State Fair midway, Family Attractions Amusement LLC, the Georgia company that brought the Vortex to the fair, ride owner Macaroni and operator Tutterrow. That civil suit was settled last month, and the particulars are confidential.

The family was asking for $150 million in the suit, including $100 million in punitive damages, arguing that the defendants were more interested in making money than they were about ride-goers' safety.

The criminal investigation found that a safety mechanism designed to keep The Vortex from moving had been disabled.

Prosecutor Howard Cummings told the court Monday that it didn't appear that Tutterrow intentionally started the ride and caused the accident.

"The ride would start and go into motion without the lap bars being in place," he said. "If safety measures were in place, this would not have happened."

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