Wake prosecutor says state fair ride owner tampered with wiring before accident

ablythe@newsobserver.comDecember 20, 2013 

— Two months after a ride at the N.C. State Fair malfunctioned and injured five people, a Wake County prosecutor elaborated Friday on the evidence that prosecutors plan to use in a criminal case against the ride’s owner.

Joshua Gene Macaroni, the 32-year-old owner of the Vortex – a ride known for its fast flips and wild twirls – faces three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious bodily injury related to the Oct. 24 incident.

On Friday, Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings told a judge in a pre-trial hearing that prosecutors plan to argue that the owner tampered with an electrical box on the ride before the fair opened and after a state inspection.

State inspectors found a cracked weld and problems with the electrical box during an equipment check. The owner was ordered to fix them.

While inspectors were checking to see whether the repairs had been made, a witness overheard the Vortex owner tell the ride operator to stand behind him to act as a barrier, according to Cummings.

It was then, prosecutors contend, that the owner installed jump wiring in the electrical box that bypassed safety measures designed to prevent the ride from starting without safety bars in place.

On Oct. 24, when ride operator Tim Tutterow, 46, was at the switch, the Vortex restarted, according to investigators, as riders were stepping out of their seats. People were flung and knocked to the ground.

Of the five people injured, according to Cummings, one remains comatose. Anthony Gorham, Kisha Gorham and Justen Hunter – a father, mother and their 14-year-old son – are recovering from severe injuries suffered.

Tutterow, of Quitman, Ga., faces the same charges as Macaroni. Prosecutors have said Tutterow has been cooperating with investigators.

Dan Boyce, Macaroni’s attorney, has said the owner was out of town when the injuries occurred.

As Boyce prepares a defense, he has asked to inspect the ride, which has remained at the State Fairgrounds since the accident.

Judge W. Osmond Smith III, who presided over the hearing Friday, said the state Department of Labor, Wake County Sheriff’s Office and Wake district attorney’s office could supervise any examination of the ride by the defense.

Prosecutors have used a retired engineer from the area to help with their investigation.

The ride, which has been exposed to recent rains, must be returned to Macaroni by Jan. 31, the judge said, or another hearing will be held three days later.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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