Sources: Vortex tampering was to get customers on, off faster
Posted October 31, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — A week after five people were injured on a midway ride at the North Carolina State Fair, investigators continued Thursday to question people in the case and determine whether more criminal charges are warranted.
The Vortex, known for its wild twirls and flips, had stopped, and people were getting off last Thursday night when the ride started moving again, dropping some unsecured passengers 20 feet or so onto the metal floor.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said that, after inspecting the ride, investigators determined it had been tampered with and a safety mechanism designed to keep the ride from moving when the restraint bars weren't locked in place had been disabled.
People close to the investigation said Thursday that the tampering wasn't malicious but was only a shortcut to make the process of getting people on and off the ride easier.
Investigators are trying to determine whether someone ordered the tampering, who actually did it and who knew about it, sources said.
Ride operator Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Ga., was arrested last weekend on three counts of assault with a deadly weapon and is being held without bond in the Wake County jail.
Tutterrow accompanied investigators to the State Fairgrounds Tuesday afternoon and appeared to be trying to help them as they examined the Vortex.
The Wake County Sheriff's Office has kept the ride at the fairgrounds as a crime scene, erecting a fence around it in recent days to preserve any evidence.
"I would expect they would be very thorough in conducting this investigation," said Zachary Bolithio, a professor at Campbell University's Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law and a former federal prosecutor.
WRAL News has learned that, while the Vortex is operated by Valdosta, Ga.-based Family Attractions Amusement Co., it is owned by Josh Macaroni, the son of Family Attractions founder Dominic Macaroni. The ride was first brought to the U.S. last spring after operating in Europe for several years.
Documents obtained from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees the State Fair, show that the Vortex was one of 29 rides classified as "spectacular" at the event. Fair contractor Powers Great American Midways' contract with the state called for supplying at least 28 spectacular rides each day of the fair or risk $5,000 daily fines.
Even with the Vortex out of commission during the last three days of the fair, Powers never fell below the minimum number and wasn't penalized.
Three of the people injured on the Vortex remain hospitalized, but their conditions are unknown.
Bolithio, who has been following the case, said that if any of them don't survive, the charges against Tutterrow will be upgraded.
"There would be a number of other options available to prosecutors at that point. The most serious charge would probably be second-degree murder," he said.
Harrison has said that other people could be charged in the case.
"If there's anybody who aided in any way, they could be charged as an aider or abettor with the crime," Bolithio said. "Others who weren't there who may have ordered (the tampering) or been involved in any planning could be charged with a conspiracy offense or with being an accessory to the crime."