Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

October 28, 2013

Brooks man charged in fairground injuries

Sheriff: Someone tampered with ‘Vortex’ ride

RALEIGH. N.C. — A Quitman man faces criminal charges following an incident Thursday at the North Carolina State Fair with a ride owned by a Valdosta company that left five people injured.

Three people remained in a Raleigh hospital on Sunday, three days after the “Vortex” ride suddenly jolted into gear as people were exiting, dropping some riders from heights that eyewitnesses estimated to be 20 or 30 feet.

Investigators determined the Vortex, known for thrilling riders with its wild twirls and flips, had been tampered with and critical safety devices were compromised, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said Saturday. Harrison’s office did not return messages and officials with the state Labor Department declined to offer further explanation of the tampering and the overall investigation.

Ride operator Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, faces three criminal counts of assault with a deadly weapon in the mishap. Tutterrow was being held in jail Sunday

on $225,000 bond and was due in court today for a first appearance, said attorney Roger W. Smith Jr.

“Mr. Tutterrow is absolutely devastated by what happened,” Smith said in a phone interview Sunday.

The people who remained hospitalized were a 14-year-old whose identity hasn’t been released; Anthony Gorham, 29; and Kisha Gorham, 39. The Gorhams’ family members declined to comment Sunday. The two others who were hurt have been treated and released.

The Vortex had at least one other technical problem at the North Carolina fair. A safety switch that keeps the ride from operating unless seat restraints are engaged malfunctioned on Monday. The ride was temporarily idled as workers replaced the switch, but it reopened Monday night after being tested, state inspectors said.

The Vortex, built by Technical Park S.N.C. of Italy, was supplied by Family Attractions Amusement Co. LLC. The company’s website says its home offices are in Quitman but gives a mailing address in Valdosta.

“Family Attractions Amusement Co. LLC is a family-owned and operated enterprise with an excellent equipment safety record. It has never before experienced an incident with any of its rides like this one,” said Joyce Fitzpatrick, spokesman for Family Attractions. She said Tutterrow had worked for Family Attractions for four years and had previously worked for the brother of one of the owners.

The company was unaware of any problems with Tutterow such as run-ins with the law, she said.

According to Tutterow’s Facebook account, he attended high school in Indianapolis, Ind., and once worked for Langdale Forest Products.

Family Attractions’ owners, Dominic and Ruby Macaroni, could not be reached for comment Sunday. Fitzpatrick said the Macaronis were “devastated” by the incident.

She said the company’s representatives can’t explain what happened because they have not been allowed to review the inspection records, which are kept inside the ride, Fitzpatrick said. The ride has been closed since Thursday’s injuries.

The Labor Department said its inspectors performed safety checks on all the rides before the fair opened. Ride operators are supposed to do three daily operational checks and record those in a log, said Tom Chambers, the chief of the department’s ride inspection unit. State inspectors then perform checks of the logs to confirm operators are complying with the rules.  

It is uncommon for ride operators to be criminally charged, but safety consultant Ken Martin chalks that up to the industry being largely self-regulated in most states.

“If more incidents on amusement rides were investigated as thoroughly as this ride in North Carolina is being investigated, there’s quite possibly the opportunity that more criminal cases would come out. The folks in North Carolina, they don’t pussyfoot around when it comes to amusement ride safety,” said Martin, owner of KRM Consulting in Richmond, Va., which conducts amusement ride inspections in Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Missouri.

The North Carolina State Fair is known in the industry for its requirement that everything on an amusement ride has to operate or the ride does not move. Several ride inspectors are on the grounds of the Raleigh event daily watching operators and equipment to make sure everything is in order, Martin said.

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