WRAL.com at the State Fair

A year later, Vortex accident still fresh for witnesses

Posted October 16, 2014 4:56 p.m. EDT
Updated October 16, 2014 5:27 p.m. EDT

— A year after five people, including a family of four, were seriously injured while getting off a ride at the North Carolina State Fair, the memories are still fresh for those who witnessed the frightening ordeal.

"Everybody just started, like, flying off," Deborah Chavies recalled this week, just days before the 11-day annual event kicked off Thursday in Raleigh.

It was the night of Oct. 24, 2013, and Chavies had gotten off The Vortex – a thrill ride known for its wild twirls and flips – seconds before it started moving again and dropped passengers 20 feet onto the ride's metal floor.

"I had to jump off, because it started speeding up again, going again, and I'm like, 'Why is this moving?'" Chavies said. "I thank God that I didn't get hurt and that I jumped off at the last minute."

The 19-year-old was seated directly in front of Anthony Gorham, his wife, 14-year-old stepson and 24-year-old niece.

"The little boy that was behind me, when he dropped down on the floor, he wasn't responding," Chavies said.

Conelle Farrar, an off-duty firefighter in Morrisville, had just gotten off The Vortex when he heard screams and saw Gorham's wife, Kisha, and her son, Justen Hunter, injured and lying in the path of the spinning ride.

"My first instinct was just to get them to safety, to pull them back out of the way of the ride so there would be no further injuries," he said.

Anthony Gorham, who suffered brain, skull and neck injuries, spent months in the hospital and is still recovering.

The Gorhams did not want to be interviewed this week and are asking, instead, for their privacy.

"They are doing as well as can be expected," Farrar, who has since befriended the family, said. "They ask that you keep them in your prayers."

A criminal investigation found that a safety mechanism designed to keep the ride from moving had been disabled.

The ride's owner, Joshua Macaroni, and operator, Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, were later arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. Macaroni and Family Attractions Amusement Co., which ran the ride, were also fined by two government agencies.

In addition to criminal charges, they are also being sued by the Gorhams.

And although it was the family whose lives were affected the most by the Vortex accident, both Farrar and Chavies say, they too, are changed because of it.

"It humbled me," Farrar said of his experience. "It made me think about life a little bit more and made me enjoy life a little bit more and made me realize that tomorrow's not promised," he said.

Chavies agreed.

"If I had stood there and been so shocked and not jumped, I would have probably been on the ground too, probably wouldn't be alive today," she said.