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Wake deputies recover wires allegedly used to jump-start NC State Fair ride

By Thomasi McDonald
tmcdonald@newsobserver.com

RALEIGH Within a day after the Vortex ride malfunctioned at the North Carolina State Fair and injured five people last fall, investigators suspected that someone had tampered with the ride’s safety mechanism, according to a search warrant made public Thursday.

Investigators obtained the warrant on Oct. 25, the day after the accident, to seize handwritten notes, inspection reports and five jumper wires they think were used to bypass safety mechanisms and keep the machine in operation, according to a court affidavit made public with the warrant.

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. Both have been charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury.

Wake County Sheriff’s investigator D. Weaver obtained the search warrant to look for evidence indicating Macaroni and the ride operators knew the machine was malfunctioning. Weaver stated in the court affidavit that he wanted to seize information related to the operation and maintenance of the ride, any tools or devices used to bypass the standard operation of the ride and all communication – handwritten or electronic – between Macaroni and his employees, according to the court affidavit.

The Vortex riders had unbuckled their safety restraints and were exiting when the machine started to move and then sped up. A ride employee and four members of one family were thrown from the ride before the operator stopped it. Their injuries ranged from minor to critical, Weaver wrote.

After questioning Macaroni, Tutterow and other ride employees, sheriff’s investigators determined that they were all aware that the Vortex was malfunctioning. The Vortex’s glitches were related to “the deployment and release of the safety harnesses (and) restraints for the passengers,” Weaver wrote.

The deputies also learned that Macaroni and his employees had been aware of the problem three days before the accident, on Oct. 21, court records show.

Inspectors with the N.C. Department of Labor had inspected the Vortex before the accident and found a cracked weld and problems with the electrical box, and Macaroni was ordered to fix them, prosecutors said during a court hearing last month in Wake County District Court.

Prosecutors accused Macaroni of tampering with the electrical box after the inspection. Weaver, the sheriff’s investigator, stated in the search warrant application that “in order to keep the ride in operation, key safety mechanisms were bypassed by” Tutterow under Macaroni’s direction.

In addition to jumper wires, notes and inspection reports, investigators seized a Dell laptop computer, a Vortex manual, a box that contained an electrical board, and “loose coins:” 458 pennies, 29 nickles, 28 dimes, one dollar, two foreign coins and a screw.

McDonald: 919-829-4533
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