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Ride Operator Charged Appears in Court on NC Fair Injuries

October 28, 2013

AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett

Fairgrounds Police secure a barricade around the Vortex after an accident closed the ride just after 9 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 24, 2013 at the N.C. State Fair in Raleigh, N.C.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A carnival ride operator facing assault charges over injuries from a ride at the North Carolina State Fair made his first appearance in court Monday, with a prosecutor saying there are still unanswered questions about what happened.

Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Ga., faces three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting serious injury. Each count is punishable by up to eight years in prison.

Wake County District Court Judge Keith O. Gregory declined a request during the brief hearing to lower Tutterrow's $225,000 bond. The defendant, dressed in an orange and white striped jumpsuit, was taken back to jail in handcuffs.

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Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison said investigators determined the ride had been intentionally tampered with to bypass critical safety devices, though authorities have provided no details of the evidence against Tutterrow.

The "Vortex" jolted into motion Thursday evening as people were exiting, dropping riders from heights eyewitnesses estimated at up to 30 feet.

Three people remained hospitalized on Monday with serious injuries, including a 14-year-old. Two others were treated and released.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said in court he would personally handle Tutterrow's prosecution and that more charges could come as the investigation moves forward.

"There are still some unanswered questions we are trying to get to the bottom of," Willoughby said. "These are very serious charges and we want to make sure we are proceeding in the right way."

Tutterrow's lawyer, Roger W. Smith Jr., said Sunday that his client is a loving husband and father.

"It is such a tragedy what happened and he's just reeling from that," Smith said. "He's devastated and distraught. All his thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured."

Tutterrow's wife and several members of his family traveled to Raleigh for the hearing. They declined to comment on the case as they left the courtroom.

Records show Tutterrow was arrested in Georgia in 2002 on a felony charge of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to four years of probation under a program for first-time offenders, according to records.

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He was also arrested in 1997 in Kentucky on a charge of possessing cocaine. Details of how that charge was resolved by the court were not immediately available.

Tutterrow's current lawyer said he knew nothing of those prior charges.

"What I can tell you is that Tim Tutterrow is a good man and he would never intentionally harm anyone," Smith said.

Those who remain hospitalized are Anthony Gorham, 29; and Kisha Gorham, 39. The name and gender of the 14-year-old in the hospital was not provided in court filings.

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 Oct. 21, four days before the problem that injured five.

The ride was temporarily idled as workers replaced the switch, but it reopened that night after being tested, state inspectors said.

The fair ended Sunday night. A few hours later on Monday, a 35-year-old worker dismantling a ride with the same name but totally different mechanisms hurt his leg and was taken to a hospital, Agriculture Department spokesman Brian Long said.

The Vortex that Tutterrow was operating was supplied by Family Attractions Amusement Co. LLC of Valdosta, Ga. Smith said Tutterrow had worked for the company for several years.

Family Attractions was a subcontractor of Powers Great American Midways, a New York company hired by the N.C. Department of Agriculture to provide rides at the state fair, which ended Sunday night.

Inspectors with the N.C. Labor Department 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.

MORE: Classic State Fairs

Minnesota State Fair at night, 2009. (Flickr/Jake Mohan)


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