Midtown Raleigh News

N.C. State Fair officials say it cost $400 a day to watch the Vortex

A Wake County Sheriff Detention officer stands watch over the Vortex ride at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on Dec. 30.
A Wake County Sheriff Detention officer stands watch over the Vortex ride at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on Dec. 30. cseward@newsobserver.com

More than two months after the N.C. State Fair ended and the midway was disassembled and trucked away, one ride still remains.

The Vortex, a ride known for its fast flips and wild, spinning turns, sits alone near Gate 5 off Youth Center Road. The N.C. State Fair has someone watching the ride 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because it figures prominently in a criminal case stemming from an accident that injured five people.

The garishly painted machine has taken up about 25 square yards of real estate at the fairgrounds since it came to a stop Oct. 24, then suddenly and without warning started up again. The five people who were injured included Anthony Gorham, Kisha Gorham and their 14-year-old son Justen Hunter. One of them remained comatose late last month, according to assistant district attorney Howard Cummings.

Two people – the ride’s owner and one of its operators – have been charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury because, prosecutors contend, they tampered with the ride’s safety mechanisms.

Investigators for the prosecutors and the defense are still examining the ride. Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said his deputies are still looking for evidence at the site on behalf of the county district attorney’s office.

“When they feel like they got what they need, then we will release it,” Harrison said.

Meanwhile, fair officials have erected a fence around the machine, and a security guard watches the ostentatious piece of evidence around the clock. The fair assumed responsibility for the ride during the first week of November, and since then, the cost in manpower has hit about $24,000 and counting, State Fair spokesman Brian Long said.

“It costs $400 a day to have a dedicated officer whose sole job is to guard that ride,” said Long. “It comes straight from the State Fair’s coffers.”

The fairgrounds generates its own revenue through the rental of buildings throughout the year and from the fair in October.

Long said there was some concern early on about the costs. The fairgrounds police department has a staff of 40 employees, but only seven work full time and of that seven only two are sworn officers. Long said the tiny fair police department has had to call in detention officers from the Wake County County Sheriff’s Office to help keep an eye on the Vortex.

“It’s not a normal expense,” Long said. “But that ride is on our property, and we feel as long as it’s there we should be keeping an eye on it.”

Two days after the accident, sheriff’s deputies arrested ride operator Tim Tutterow, 46, who was at the switch when the accident occurred. The Vortex owner, Joshua Gene Macaroni, 32, was later arrested.

Prosecutors have accused Macaroni of tampering with an electrical box on the ride before the fair opened and after a state inspection. The state inspectors had found a cracked weld and problems with the electrical box, and the owner was ordered to fix them.

Prosecutors say Tutterow has cooperated with their investigation. Macaroni’s attorney has said the owner was out of town when the accident happened and plans to contest the charges.

Wake County District Court Judge Osmond Smith III last week said the ride, which has been exposed to recent rains, must be returned to Macaroni by Jan. 31 or another hearing would be held three days later.