Judge refuses to reduce bail for suspect in State Fair ride injuries

mquillin@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

— An N.C. State Fair worker charged with injuring five people by tampering with a ride will remain in the Wake County Detention Center after a judge refused to reduce his $225,000 bond during a first appearance on Monday.

Timothy Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Ga., is accused of altering the safety systems on the Vortex, resulting in an incident that injured five people Thursday night when the machine launched after riders’ safety harnesses had been released. Three people remain hospitalized.

Tutterrow waived his right to a court-appointed attorney and told Wake County District Court Judge Keith Gregory he would hire Roger W. Smith Jr. of Raleigh to represent him. Tutterrow was present in the courtroom for the minutes-long procedure, in a jail jumpsuit and handcuffs, but did not address the court.

Outside the courtroom, Smith said as he had Sunday that Tutterrow was “devastated” by what had happened, and said, “Timothy Tutterrow is a good man. He would never intentionally harm anyone.”

Smith said Tutterrow’s wife, aunt, uncle and father were present for his court appearance. They did not speak to reporters.

Smith, a prominent defense attorney, had told the judge that Tutterrow “is a man of very humble means,” but when asked how Tutterrow would be able to afford an attorney of his stature, Smith declined to say.

Smith assured the judge that Tutterrow would not be a flight risk, but Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby Jr. said the investigation into the accident is incomplete and asked the judge to let the bond stand for now.

Outside court, Willoughby said he did not know whether there would be additional charges in the case. He said investigators still are inspecting the Vortex to determine exactly what happened and when.

“We want to be sure we’re proceeding in the right way,” he said.

Willoughby would not say what led investigators to the possibility that the ride had been tampered with, or speculate as to why Tutterrow would have done so.

Tutterrow was charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting serious injury. Each count carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.

The North Carolina fair often is cited as one of the nation’s safest, with rigorous health and safety inspections. Rides at the fair are inspected by the N.C. Department of Labor at setup, and owners are responsible for three daily inspections after the fair begins. State officials continue to make spot checks and investigate problems.

Three days before the accident, state officials found the Vortex had been disabled by a bad solenoid, which helps shut the ride off when seat restraints aren’t properly engaged. Labor officials said the component was replaced and the ride re-inspected.

Tutterrow is a four-year employee of Family Attractions Amusement Company of Valdosta, Ga. This was the company’s first year at the N.C. State Fair, and it brought only one ride: the Vortex, an Italian-made machine that turns riders around and upside-down.

Joyce Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman for Family Attractions, said Monday that the company has the only Vortex in the United States. The ride was used before the company bought it in Belgium earlier this year, she said, and Family Attractions ran it in seven fairs since March with no incidents. More than 250,000 people rode the Vortex at those events, Fitzpatrick said.

Marc Janas, spokesman for Powers Great American Midway, which manages most of the fair’s games and rides, said earlier that Family Attractions’ income at the fair would have been affected by how many riders went on the Vortex. Family Attractions brought the Vortex to the fair as a subcontractor paid by Powers.

But Fitzpatrick said Monday that because the company had only one ride at the fair, its arrangement with Powers was a flat fee for the 11-day event. Fitzpatrick said Tutterrow is paid a yearly salary, and other staffers are paid a flat weekly fee.

Janas was not able to say immediately whether the company was in fact paid a flat fee, or if its earnings were based partially on ridership.

Fitzpatrick said Family Attractions will not be able to inspect the ride until the Wake County Sheriff’s Office and other investigators finish their work, possibly later this week. The ride remains on the fairgrounds, roped off.

Tutterrow’s next scheduled court appearance is Nov. 18.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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