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5 injured on malfunctioning ride at N.C. State Fair

VORTEX01-NE-102413-RTW
Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
Fairgrounds Police secure a barricade around the Vortex after an accident closed the ride just after 9 p.m. on Thursday October 24, 2013 at the N.C. State Fair in Raleigh, N.C.

Five people were injured Thursday evening – two seriously – when a Vortex ride on the N.C. State Fair midway apparently malfunctioned.

“It appears to be an accident,” Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said, but his department will investigate it as a crime until it is confirmed otherwise. He said there were 35 to 40 witnesses to the accident.

The incident was called in at 9:16 p.m., according to emergency dispatchers. Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Long said all five of the injured were en route to WakeMed in Raleigh by 9:30 p.m.

One of the injured was a ride operator, Harrison said. People from the same family were among the other four victims, he said, but authorities were unsure of their exact relationship. The ages of the injured ranged from 14 to 39 years old. Their names were not released Thursday.

"This has shaken all of us a little bit," said Brian Long, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Agriculture. "We definitely have these folks in our thoughts and prayers."

A fair spokesman said the fair will operate on its normal schedule on Friday.

The Vortex ride spins around as an arm flips riders upward toward the sky, spinning faster as the riders are flipped upside down at the highest point of elevation.

There are two Vortex rides at the fair, according to the State Department of Agriculture, which oversees the fair. The Vortex involved in the accident is located on the lower midway behind the Expo Center on the fairgrounds. It was manufactured by Technical Park International of Italy.

An older Vortex is located on the new midway and has been at the fair for many years, according to the agriculture department.

Preliminary reports are that the ride stopped and started again as operators were beginning to off-load passengers, Harrison said.

All rides at the fair are inspected three times daily, according to Delores Quesenberry, director of communications for the state Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor had representatives at the scene Thursday night, and will be responsible for checking inspection records and determining if the accident was equipment malfunction or operator error.

Harrison said the City-County Bureau of Identification was also at the scene, helping to determine how the incident unfolded.

The last serious injury at the fair occurred in 2002 when a carnival worker was killed after accidentally slipping into the path of one of the Banzai ride’s swinging pendulum cars. In 2004, a carnival worker was injured taking down a ride at the end of the fair’s 10-day run when a 15-foot-high steel section of the ride fell on him.

CHARLOTTE OBSERVER STAFF WRITERS CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR., APRIL BETHEA AND SERGIO TOVAR
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