Court records show Vortex operator overrode safety features

New information in a three-page court order gives a deeper glimpse into the fair ride investigation.
October 30, 2013 4:04:48 AM PDT
Court records obtained by the ABC11 I-Team show authorities believe that the operator of the Vortex ride at the North Carolina State Fair overrode the safety features on the ride.

New information in a three-page court order obtained by the I-Team gives a deeper glimpse into the fair ride investigation. It reveals the Wake County Sheriff's Office requested "all files, whether they be written or electronic in regards to the ride Vortex."

Last Thursday night, passengers were just getting off the Vortex when it jerked back into motion, sending people "falling like rain drops." The five people injured fell onto the ride's metal platform. Three of them were seriously injured.

An eyewitness says she saw the ride operator, 46-year-old Tim Tutterrow, first try to help and then have an emotional meltdown.

The court order says, "During the investigation it was determined Mr. Tim Tutterrow, the ride operator, did override the safety features for this ride causing it to be unsafe."

Tutterrow has been charged with three felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious bodily injury in connection with the mishap.

He, along with his lawyers, Wake County's district attorney, the sheriff and other investigators spent about an hour looking over the machine Tuesday afternoon.

A spokesperson for the company that owns the ride, based in Georgia, told ABC11 that Tutterrow has been the primary operator on this ride since the company bought it back in March.

ABC11 has learned the ride has been to seven state fairs since then, and before coming to Raleigh, had 250,000 people on it, without incident.

We're also told the company was asked to bring it to the North Carolina State Fair and was paid a flat fee, which suggests the operator wouldn't have had a financial motive to keep the ride running, if he knew it wasn't safe.

However, that information doesn't agree with what Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison has said. He told ABC11 that he Tutterrow tampered with safety mechanisms in order to keep the Vortex spinning.

"There's no question in my mind, even though there would be no incentive for him to do that, according to the company," said Harrison.  "We don't know, and that's why this is an ongoing investigation."

Harrison said that the investigation could take a while longer and that more arrests are likely.

The I-Team has also learned an agreement between the state and the fair's primary contractor, Powers Great American Midways, required the primary contractor to provide at least 28 rides classified as "spectacular" or face maximum daily fines of $5,000.

The five accident victims, all between the ages of 14 and 39 years old, were taken to WakeMed. Two have been released. The three victims that remain hospitalized are from the same family. They are 29-year-old Anthony Gorham, 39-year-old Kisha Gorham, and a 14-year-old whose name was not released.

New video uncovered by ABC News shown for the first time Monday shows an injured person being pulled away from the ride seconds after it started moving.

Sources told ABC11 that there is no evidence that Tutterrow intentionally tried to hurt anyone. They said the case is very comparable to DWI cases where people have been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. They may not have intended to hurt anyone by driving drunk, but should have known that was a possibility - therefore they are considered criminally culpable.

On Monday, a judge declined to lower Tutterrow's $225,000 bond after prosecutors said he lives out of state, and could be considered a flight risk.

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