Vortex accident to bring changes to State Fair midway
Posted January 10, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — An accident on a ride during last fall's North Carolina State Fair has prompted fair officials to begin demanding criminal background checks and drug tests of anyone working on the midway.
Five people were injured Oct. 24 when The Vortex, known for its wild twirls and flips, started moving while people were getting off, dropping some unsecured passengers 20 feet onto the ride's metal floor.
Joshua Gene Macaroni, who owns The Vortex, and Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, the ride's operator, have been charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious bodily injury. Investigators said Macaroni, with Tutterrow's help, bypassed a safety mechanism on the ride that would allow the ride to operate even if its safety bars weren't locked in place.
"It was a punch to the gut for all of us," Brian Long, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said of the accident.
The agency, which runs the State Fair, decided to amend its midway contract to beef up safety measures. The changes include mandatory checks and drug tests on all contractors and subcontractors, including ride and game operators and concessionaires.
Powers Great American Midways, which has run the State Fair midway for several years, already conducts background checks and drug tests, but Long said fair officials wanted it as a stipulation in all future midway contracts.
The background checks are meant to identify employees charged with abuse or sex crimes.
"I think that would be the primary thing. It's not going to necessarily catch somebody who's intent on circumventing electrical switches, for example," fair manager Wesley Wyatt said.
The contract also will require the midway operator to provide insurance documentation for each ride and information on ride employees 30 days before the star of the fair, while information on game and concessions employees must be turned in a week before the fair. No deadline has been enforced in the past.
The midway operator also must provide copies of all insurance certificates from ride operators and concessionaires and, when asked, furnish safety inspection reports performed by the insurance carrier and any inspection reports from the most recent fair at which they appeared.
The revised contract also places less emphasis on the number of rides, dropping the required minimum from 93 to 85. Officials said one larger ride might be preferable to three smaller ones.
Also, the midway will close at 11 p.m. instead of midnight on Sunday through Wednesday of the 10-day fair under the new contract, unless fair officials determine the crowds are large enough to keep it open later.
"I think some of the things we put in this year give us a stronger contract," Long said.
Wyatt said he doesn't know whether the changes would have prevented The Vortex accident, but he said he believes they will build on what historically has been a safe event.
"I think we'll have an event with the safety procedures in effect, both through the contract and the review by the Department of Labor, that will make it a safe fair," Wyatt said.