A fair ride operator at the North Carolina State Fair was arrested over the weekend on three criminal charges of assault with a deadly weapon after officials allege that he tampered with the ride and disabled certain safety mechanisms. In turn, five people were injured over the weekend.
Officials allege that operator Timothy Tutterow, modified the ride's mechanisms on Thursday, and according to the Associated Press, "the 'Vortex' ride suddenly jolted into gear as people were exiting, dropping some riders from heights that eyewitnesses estimated to be 20 or 30 feet." Of the five injured, three of them remained in the hospital as of Sunday; they are age 14, 29 and 39.
From the Charlotte Observer:
Witnesses told investigators that the five were injured Thursday night when the Vortex started up before the four riders could be secured in their seats. The ride has two arms that twirl and suspend riders. But without the restraints in place, the riders fell from their seats, witnesses said.
One fairgoer said he saw workers struggling with the safety restraints about half an hour before the accident. Those restraints include a set of bars that go over the shoulders and a longer bar that goes down across the front of each four-passenger row.
A state official told the AP that Thursday's incident likely caused a roughly 11% drop in attendance on Friday and Saturday compared to the previous years. The AP also reports that "the North Carolina State Fair is known in the industry for its requirement that everything on an amusement ride has to operate or the ride does not move."
Tutterow's attorney described his client as "absolutely devastated."