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Vendor May Face Fines For Not Having Fair Rides Ready By Opening Day

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The N.C. Agriculture Commissioner said Friday he was disappointed that nearly half of the rides at the N.C. State Fair were not ready by the fair's opening day because they did not meet the state's safety standards.

When asked if Wade Shows, which is operating the fair's Midway rides and games, would be back next year, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said that decision would come later.

"We'll have to sit down and evaluate this after the fair is over," he said. "We'll have to find out what happened and why and make a determination."

Troxler said Wade Shows faces tens of thousands of dollars in fines. According to the contract between the state and Midway vendor, 93 rides had to be ready by noon on the first day of the fair. The fine is $5,000 per ride per day.

Just 61 of the 111 rides had met the state's stringent standards as of Friday morning, said Tom Chambers, assistant bureau chief with the Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau of the state Department of Labor. Wade Shows had 82 rides operating at noon Friday, 11 short.

"It is very odd to have this many rides not be certified by opening [day]. It's very odd," said chief state inspector Jonathan Brooks.

An assistant bureau chief in the state Department of Labor said he and his staff have seen "a plethora of problems" as they inspected rides.

The most common safety issues found by inspectors related to structural problems, such as those caused by poor welding, and electrical problems such as bad wiring.

Tom Chambers of the department's elevator and amusement device bureau said no matter how long it takes, his staff would conduct the necessary inspections to ensure that all the rides at the fair are safe. Chambers said 23 inspectors are on the fairgrounds Friday to check the rides not yet open.

Officials hope to have all of the rides on the Midway open to the public by the end of Friday.

As of 11 p.m. Friday, 100 of the 111 rides had met state standards, officials said.

"We're not going to certify anything that's not safe, and this is not a bad show. It's a good show. They just had some tough times with standards that we've set," Brooks said.

North Carolina has some of the most stringent ride safety rules in the nation, operating under a "100 percent" rule. The rule requires all rides to comply completely with manufacturer's specifications to pass inspection.

Ron Weber, a spokesman for Wade Shows, said 100 percent "was a very high standard to meet."

"Imagine if every week you had a car inspection and there was a button missing off your radio and you couldn't drive your car," he said.

When asked if Wade Shows should have been better prepared one day before the fair, Weber said: "We were shooting for the first day of the show, not the day before."

Despite the delay, fair-goers did not seem deterred Friday.

Kim Feth said she was reassured by a comment that she heard an inspector say on TV.

"He said he would not open a ride that he had not walked every inch of and he would not put his own grandson on, so if you use that as a measure of safety, then I think everyone will be safe," she said. "If some rides don't open, then somebody will ride them again tomorrow."

Despite the inspection problems at this year's State Fair, Wade Shows appears to have a good safety record. The Department of Labor in Michigan and Oklahoma, where Wade operates a number of fairs, said Wade had a good safety track-record. Also, according to a group that tracks ride accidents, riders during fairs handled by Wade Shows suffered only minor injuries in dozens of reports dating back more than a decade. However, not all states require reporting.

Last year, state inspectors signed off on 98 percent of the Midway rides the night before opening day. North Carolina is one of 25 states that uses government employees to inspect rides. Some states, including Texas, Minnesota and Oregon, use private insurance companies to inspect rides.


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