Vortex owners face more than $100K in fines in incident that injured five
Posted April 23, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — The owners of a ride that malfunctioned, injuring five people in October at the North Carolina State Fair, face more than $100,000 in fines from two government agencies for their roles in that incident.
New documents in the investigation of the October 2013 Vortex incident were released Wednesday, and they detail the fines against Family Attractions Amusement Co., which runs the ride, and Joshua Gene Macaroni, the son of the company's founder and owner of the Vortex. Both entities – Family Attractions Amusement Co. and Macaroni himself – face fines from the Elevator & Amusement Device Bureau, for unsafe operation of the ride, and from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, for failure to protect an employee from harm.
The 22-page investigation document details the initial setup and inspection of the ride upon its arrival at the State Fair Oct. 16, a malfunction on Oct. 21 and the final incident on Oct. 24 in which four riders and a ride operator were injured. At each step along the way, Macaroni was aware that there were problems with the ride and took or sanctioned the actions to override the ride's normal operation.
According to the investigation document, Macaroni was present when the ride was installed and took it upon himself to tighten some nuts and bolts. During a test run, he noticed the ride was not spinning properly and, out of sight of inspectors, worked on the electrical control cabinet for about 10 minutes, according to the investigation.
After the incident later in the week, ride operator Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow told sheriff's deputies that Macaroni added wiring in the electrical box to bypass safety mechanisms on The Vortex which would have prevented it from starting while lap bars were up. "Macaroni told Tutterrow that he had jumped out the right passenger carrier," the investigators wrote.
On Monday, Oct. 21, the Vortex's "safety system detected a malfunction and the ride disabled itself to prevent any harm," the investigators wrote. Ride operator Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow showed inspectors where a plunger in a lap bar was not completing a necessary circuit. "Tutterrow explained that he had used WD-40 on the plunger to allow it to go in and out," the investigators wrote. After a few tests, the ride was cleared and riders returned.
After the fair closed that night, Tutterrow added another electrical bypass to the ride, and talked to his boss, Macaroni, about it.
"During that conversation, Macaroni confirmed to Tutterrow that he had place the first jumper in the junction box after the ride was certified. He instructed Mr. Tutterrow to leave both the jumper in place and continue to operate the ride until he (Joshua Macaroni) arrive to look at it. While Tutterrow expressed concerns about operating the ride in this fashion, he did as instructed."
Through his lawyers, Macaroni denied adding or instructing Tutterrow to add bypass wiring to the ride.
The investigation concluded that Tutterrow and another operator, Omar Toranzo, both ran the ride with the safety systems bypassed, and that Macaroni knew about the bypass. Family Attractions Amusement should have known about the situation through Macaroni, who is and employee and representative of the bigger company, investigators said.
The Division of Occupational Safety and Health cited both Macaroni and Family Attractions for two willful, serious violations: exposing employees to "the hazard of being struck by moving parts of an amusement device" both after the ride was not maintained properly and after safety systems were bypassed. Each violation comes with a $28,000 fine, for a total OSHA fine of $56,000 each.
The Elevator & Amusement Device Bureau fined both Macaroni and Family Attractions for operating a device without a certificate and for operating an unsafe device. Those fines total a possible $3,000 a piece, but with adjustments for company safety record and cooperation with authorities, Macaroni could pay as little as $600 and the family company $900.
The fines may be the least of the worries for Macaroni, who also faces criminal charges of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious bodily and a civil suit filed on behalf of the injured family.
Tutterrow, 46, faces the same criminal charges.