North Carolina State Fair

Pastor: Sex offender's arrest at fair could have stemmed from miscommunication

Posted October 21, 2015 3:49 p.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2015 5:53 p.m. EDT

— A man who described himself as the religious adviser of a sex offender arrested at the North Carolina State Fair described the incident Tuesday as "perplexing" and "highly out of character."

Tyrone Szabo, 64, of 1505 Pocomoke Road in Franklinton, knew he was not allowed to be around children, the pastor said.

Since his 2006 conviction on six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor in Granville County, Szabo has been on the sex offender registry.

His pastor said he was very cautious because, after 10 years on the registry he would have been eligible to petition for his name's removal from the list.

"I'm sure he understood that this was a place that was not appropriate," the pastor said.

Szabo, dressed in work-style clothes with black boots was singled out by some parents Tuesday and reported to law enforcement.

His pastor said it was likely Szabo's affinity for engines that had him looking closely at the rides rather than any ulterior motive.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said Szabo's actions were clear. "He went up in Kiddieland and said he wanted to inspect the rides," Harrison said.

"I've known him for 11 years," the pastor countered. "He's not the kind of person that would flat out lie to someone. He's got a lot of integrity."

The pastor mentioned that Szabo also has problems with hearing and could have misunderstood when parents or police approached him.

Szabo's hearing difficulty was apparent at his court appearance Wednesday afternoon, where the judge had to continually repeat himself to be heard.

The North Carolina Department of Labor sent an alert Wednesday through midway operator Powers Great American Amusement to all ride operators asking them to be on the lookout for impostor ride inspectors after Szabo's arrest.

Official inspectors, the NDOL said, wear logoed clothing and carry credentials to identify themselves.

Brian Long, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture which runs the fair, called Szabo's arrest a prime example of teamwork between the public and law enforcement.

"Those folks did the right thing, and they alerted law enforcement, and law enforcement stepped in and the guy is gone," he said.

Harrison said two Highway Patrol officers approached Szabo after noticing that he had Mace in his possession.

After his hearing Wednesday, the judge returned him to the Wake County jail where he was being held under a $250,000 bond.