Under the Dome

Bill prompted by NC State Fair Vortex accident heads to McCrory

Wake County Sheriff Chief Richard Johnson, left, and CCBI Agent Jones examine an electronics panel on the "Vortex" ride after an accident that injured five people in 2013. Legislation to increase penalties for amusement ride violations is headed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk for final approval.
Wake County Sheriff Chief Richard Johnson, left, and CCBI Agent Jones examine an electronics panel on the "Vortex" ride after an accident that injured five people in 2013. Legislation to increase penalties for amusement ride violations is headed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk for final approval. clowenst@newsobserver.com

A bill to increase penalties for amusement ride violations – a response to a 2013 N.C. State Fair accident – is headed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk for final approval.

The final version of the legislation passed the N.C. House unanimously Tuesday afternoon. It would bring a five-fold increase in fines for violators to $2,500 a day. The original House bill would have multiplied the current fines by 10, but senators favored doubling the penalty.

“They felt like 10 times was too much, so we came up with a compromise of increasing the penalty five times,” said Rep. Ted Davis Jr., a Wilmington Republican.

The change was requested by the N.C. Department of Labor after a family of five was seriously injured in 2013 on the Vortex ride at the N.C. State Fair. The ride operator faced criminal charges that he’d tampered with the ride’s safety system.

Davis also added a provision that will launch a six-month study of possible regulations for zip lines – also prompted by a recent accident. A 12-year-old girl died in June while on a zip line at a summer camp; North Carolina currently has no oversight of the industry.

Davis said he initially wanted to make regulations immediately, but “there are not enough inspectors with the Department of Labor that would be able to inspect zip lines.”

Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican and a former summer camp director, said a study is the right approach. “We cannot protect against human error, but we can protect against things that aren’t designed right or aren’t inspected right,” he said.

Provisions of the bill

The bill would increase civil fines five-fold to $2,500 each day for these violations:

▪ Operating a ride without a certificate.

▪ Operating a ride after being refused a certificate or having a certificate revoked.

▪ Knowingly permitting a ride to operate in violation of the law.

▪ Operating while impaired would increase from $1,000 to $5,000.

Other provisions include:

▪ Willful violations would trigger criminal fines of up to $10,000, and up to $20,000 with prior convictions.

▪ Causing death or serious injury would be a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

▪ Operators would have to carry specific amounts of insurance coverage.

▪ Judges could take into account the annual gross income of an operation in determining the amount of fines.

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