Ride owner pleads guilty in State Fair accident
Posted February 19, 2016 9:57 a.m. EST
Updated March 21, 2016 11:54 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The owner of a ride that malfunctioned and injured a family at the 2013 North Carolina State Fair must spend 30 days in jail after he pleaded guilty Friday to obstructing justice in the case.
Joshua Gene Macaroni entered an Alford plea, which allows a defendant to plead guilty, while maintaining his innocence, because there is sufficient evidence to find him guilty.
Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley sentenced Macaroni to five to 15 months in prison, but suspended that to a month in jail. Macaroni also was ordered to pay a $22,500 fine, which was the amount he would have made off the ride during the fair.
Five people were injured on Oct. 24, 2103, when The Vortex started up unexpectedly as people were trying to disembark. Investigators determined that a safety mechanism designed to keep ride from moving had been disabled.
Anthony Gorham suffered brain, skull, neck and spinal cord injuries and spent nearly four months in a local hospital. His wife, Kisha Gorham, and her son and her niece were also seriously injured.
"It was a simple night of fun, and it all turned upside down," a sobbing Kisha Gorham said in court Friday.
Anthony Gorham is blind in one eye, his wife said. He had to undergo brain surgery, has developed seizures and can no longer work, she said.
"The last words I heard my healthy, vibrant husband say were 'Stop this ride,'" she said. "Now, he can barely find the words he wants to say."
Kisha Gorham said she still has pain from a shoulder injury she suffered on The Vortex, but she is more concerned with the mental anguish her son continues to suffer.
The boy, now 17, feels guilty about talking his family into going to the State Fair that night, she said, and he has since tried to commit suicide and is receiving mental health counseling.
"My family was completely torn apart," she said. "We lost our home."
Macaroni tearfully apologized to the Gorhams and said he takes full responsibility for the accident.
"Safety on my rides has always been my priority, and now it’s an even greater priority," he said. "I assure this court I will never operate a ride that's unsafe, and I will endeavor to manage my employees and oversee operations at an even closer level."
Defense attorney Dan Boyce tried to deflect some of the blame on Timothy Tutterrow, who was operating The Vortex the night of the accident.
Tutterrow pleaded guilty last June to assault with a deadly weapon and had agreed to testify against Macaroni, if needed. He hasn't been sentenced yet.
Both men had been charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury.
"Tim Tutterrow knew how to fix the machine. It was simple fixes, and he didn’t do his job," Boyce said. "With all due respect to this family, it’s Tim Tutterrow and his negligence that really caused the injury to these wonderful people."
The judge said, however, that Macaroni is ultimately responsible as the boss.
"The bottom line is, if you had not done what you did, that ride would not have passed inspection and would not have been operating," Shirley said. "I heard you speak a lot about managing employees better – you need to lead."
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said he accepted the plea deals with both men to give the Gorhams closure and because, while authorities have plenty of evidence of tampering, the only person who could testify about how the ride should work is the man in Italy who built the ride.
"In no means do I feel this resolution is adequate," Cummings said.
The Gorhams have settled a lawsuit over the accident with Macaroni, Tutterrow, Powers Great American Midways, which ran the State Fair midway, and Family Attractions Amusement LLC, the Georgia company that brought The Vortex to the fair. Terms of the settlements haven't been disclosed.
"(The Macaroni family) did their best to work through the civil system to see these people were fairly compensated for their horrific injuries," Boyce said.
Kisha Gorham said after the court hearing that no amount of money can make up for what her family has lost.
"We’d much rather give everything back just to have that normalcy we had prior to that night," she said.
"We’re trying every day to move past this," she continued. "You try to live through it. You try to focus on the good so your family can continue to improve and heal."