With iffy weather and a thrill-ride accident at its back, the N.C. State Fair opened its last day of 2013 Sunday with attendance likely trailing last years figure of nearly 1million people.
The largest State Fair crowds showed up in 2010, when nearly 1.1 million visitors came to the fairgrounds. This years totals will be available Monday.
A spokesman with the state Department of Agriculture attributed the drop in visitors compared to last year to spots of foul weather since the Oct. 17 opening day, but said some people may have stayed away because of an accident Thursday night that left several people injured. An employee with a Georgia company faces criminal charges for tampering with a ride called the Vortex.
Through Thursday, total attendance was down 8,800 people from last year, said agriculture department spokesman Brian Long. On Friday, attendance was 82,163. Last year, the second Friday drew 92,418 people. The 10-year average for that day is 78,855.
On Saturday, 122,223 people attended the fair, down more than 10 percent from last years 139,484 second Saturday attendance. The 10-year average for the second Saturday is 124,543.
The accident could have been a factor in some people deciding not to go to the fair, Long said.
I think it could have been a factor, he said. For some people, it may have caused them not to come.
Crowds lined up for rides, games and roasted corn Sunday and continued to arrive at the fairgrounds after sunset.
Depending on the last days numbers, attendance is on pace to be slightly above average but not record-setting, Long said.
You cant do that every year, he said.
Marc Janas, spokesman for the company that has managed many of the fairs games and rides for years, said fairgoers werent avoiding rides after the accident.
A Wake County Sheriffs car was parked in front of the ride that was the site of the accident. The crime-taped scene drew some visitors attention, but several people interviewed at the fair said they had no second thoughts about attending or letting their children enjoy the rides.
I dont think that ride slowed people down, said Ash Williamson of Mt. Olive, as he waited for his seven-year-old daughter to finish swinging on the YoYo. Williamson, 29, and other fairgoers noted that the investigation found the ride was tampered with and did not malfunction.
LaTonya Davis of Garner said she didnt hesitate to come to the fair with her four daughters, but was surprised to see so many people on the rides.
Everybodys still having fun, she said.