I-Team: Ride safety at the NC State Fair

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NC State Fair officials say they don't have the manpower to do "drop-in" inspections. (WTVD)

Thousands of people will walk through the gates Thursday when the State Fair kicks off, but even though a family was seriously injured last year on the Vortex, fair officials say they don't have the manpower to do "drop-in" inspections.

The Department of Labor says they don't have enough workers, nor are they required to station an inspector on all 102 rides at the fair for round-the-clock supervision. Once the fair opens, despite what happened just last year, it'll be up to the ride operators to inspect themselves.

Authorities say a ride operator tampered with a safety mechanism last year, hurling riders off the thrill ride and badly injuring some. Officials say the operator re-wired the malfunctioning ride to keep it running after it passed safety certification.

"If that guy is intent on doing something to the ride, it's going to happen," said Tommy Petty, with the Department of Labor.

The department says they subject operators to a high level of scrutiny. Inspectors check every lock, head rest, seat cushion, nut and bolt. But once they give a certification that a ride is safe, it's up to the operator or ride owner to stay in compliance with safety regulations, and not rig a ride.

"I can't comment no more on that accident but it's in our report what happened. There's nothing that could have prevented that," said Petty. "Actually, we go above and beyond what the law even requires. We don't even have to have anybody on site."

The Gorham family was among the victims of the Vortex incident. One member tells ABC11 that he suffered severe brain and spinal cord injuries. The family has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

"With the magnitude of this tragedy, you would think there would have been a complete overhaul as it related to the safety guideline. It's difficult to understand why changes were not made...You see the damage, you see the injuries, you should want to make sure that it's never happens again," said the Gorham family attorney, Willie Gary.

Some folks getting ready to attend the fair have the same concerns.

"Looking at what happened last year, some additional changes I think would be good," said Christine Alexander.

"I think they're just worried about money really. The money comes in...they're not worry about the people's safety," said Eric Kudratte.

Others are hopeful the frightening scene from last year won't play out again.

"I've been coming here my whole life so just one bad apple can't ruin the fair for everybody," said Kim McKeithen.

When the fair opens Thursday, ride operators will be in charge of physical inspections. They'll have to do checks three times a day and keep a log. The information will then be verified by inspectors.

Inspectors will also be walking around and observing operations throughout the length of the fair, but will not be randomly re-inspecting rides.

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