RALEIGH, N.C.(MCT) — An employee of a Georgia rides company made the Vortex a "deadly weapon" by tampering with technology that should have kept the ride from launching into motion and dumping passengers on a N.C. State Fair platform, according to warrants and law enforcement statements in the case.
Three people remain hospitalized after Thursday's incident. And a veteran rides inspector says that, by industry standards, only a failure or override of computerized sensors would have allowed the ride to start as its passengers sat helpless, their safety restraints unsecured.
Ken Martin, a Richmond, Va.-based safety consultant for fairs and carnivals, said that today's rides work much like modern cars, using sensors and digital communications systems to detect and avoid unsafe conditions.
"They want to check and make sure, No. 1, the lap bars are down; No. 2, the lap bars are locked; No. 3, make sure all those systems are talking back and forth to each other," Martin said Sunday.
Local authorities have charged operator Timothy Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Ga., with altering the Vortex's safety systems after an inspection.
According to arrest warrants, Tutterrow "unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did assault (the victims) with an amusement ride, a deadly weapon, inflicting serious injury."
Tutterrow's attorney on Sunday declined comment on the operator's actions, but said his client was "devastated" by the incident.
Witness accounts indicate that multiple riders were seriously injured because they couldn't stay inside the two sets of 16 seats without seat restraints.
Manar Joudeh, 18, said she saw the ride start again after an attendant lifted safety restraint bars, when most modern rides should have been disabled, according to Martin. Passengers unable to jump off were lifted high into the air, then dumped out as the ride ran its routine.
"One of the guys hung on, and couldn't hang on any longer, and then the girl fell, and hit on her side, and there was blood everywhere," said Joudeh, 18.
A representative of the ride's manufacturer, Technical Park of Italy, couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.
Sheriff Donnie Harrison said on Saturday that Tutterrow may have made an unauthorized change to the Vortex's safety system in order to keep the ride running. As a result, investigators have charged Tutterrow with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury.
Such a charge does not mean authorities suspect intentional harm; the sheriff did not name a motive for the activity alleged by the sheriff's office, beyond keeping the ride running.
"It sounds to me, from what I've read so far," Martin said, "that there was a problem that went undiagnosed, and they just looked for a quick fix."
Tutterrow, 46, is paid a yearly salary, and other staffers are paid a flat weekly fee, according to Joyce Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman for ride operator Family Attractions Amusement Company.
However, Family Attractions Amusement's income depends on ridership; it's paid based on how many tickets it receives from riders, according to Marc Janas, public relations director for Powers Great American Midway, which for years has managed many of the fair's games and rides.
This year was Family Attractions Amusement's first at the North Carolina fair, and the company brought only one ride, the Vortex, Janas said
"He's absolutely devastated"
Tutterrow's attorney, Roger Smith Jr., has met with his client, but wasn't ready to comment on the specifics of the charges because of the early stage of the investigation, he said Sunday. Tutterrow was due for a first appearance at 2 p.m. Monday and was being held on $225,000 bond at the Wake County Detention Center.
"Tim, he's married, he has kids, and he's absolutely devastated for what's happened," Smith said. Tutterrow has two grown children and a grandchild, he said.
The suspect has worked for ride-operator Family Attractions Amusement Company for four years, according to the company, which is based in Valdosta, Ga., about 20 miles from Tutterrow's listed address.
"It is a horrible thing, and my thoughts are all toward the families that were hurt," said Dominic Macaroni, an owner of Family Attractions Amusement for about 17 years.
Fitzpatrick said that the company's safety record is good. The website AmusementSafety.org lists three unspecified injuries for Family Attractions Amusement in its database, but a representative of the site did not return a request for further information. Fitzpatrick said the company believes those injuries were from slips and falls.
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