Vortex ride owner gets 30 days in jail for NC State Fair accident

The owner of a ride that malfunctioned at the N.C. State Fair in 2013 and injured a family will spend 30 days in Wake County jail as part of a plea arrangement with prosecutors.

Joshua Gene Macaroni, 30, of Georgia entered a plea on Friday in which he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that there was enough evidence to convict him of one felonious count of obstruction of justice.

Assistant Wake County District Attorney Howard Cummings argued that the obstruction occurred when Macaroni tampered with an electrical box on the Vortex, a ride known for its wild twirls and fast flips.

Timothy Dwayne Tutterow, a ride operator, was at the helm of the Vortex on Oct. 24, 2013, when the ride restarted unexpectedly as people were stepping out of their seats. Riders were flung and knocked to the ground.

Tutterow pleaded guilty in Wake County Superior Court in June 2015 to three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. As part of a plea arrangement, he agreed to testify against the ride owner. He has not been sentenced.

Macaroni was accused of installing jump wiring into an electrical box on the ride that bypassed safety measures designed to prevent the ride from starting without safety bars in place.

Durham resident Anthony Gorham, 30 at the time of the accident, suffered brain, skull, neck and spinal-cord injuries. He was comatose for several months after the accident, according to Wake County prosecutors.

Gorham is blind in one eye and suffered from seizures after the accident. He has been unable to go back to work.

Kisha Gorham, his wife, and her son Justen Hunter – 14 at the time of the accident – and Shykema Dempsey, her niece, also were injured when the Vortex ride started moving while people were stepping down from it.

The family sued Powers Great American Midways, which brought the ride to the State Fair in Raleigh, and Family Attractions Amusement LLC, which operated the ride.

Macaroni and Tutterow also were named as defendants in the civil suit.

The family sought $150 million in damages in the lawsuit, which initially was filed in Durham County Superior Court.

According to the complaint, which was transferred to federal court in the Middle District of North Carolina, Gorham and his family were thrown to the ground from 20 to 30 feet above.

Anthony Gorham, according to family representatives, will require medical care for the remainder of his life. Attorneys estimated that medical bills for family members could exceed more than $30 million over their lifetimes.

The family settled with Macaroni, Tutterow and Family Attractions Amusement.

On Friday, Macaroni apologized to Gorham and his family and shook his hand in the courtroom where the plea proceedings took place.

Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley sentenced Macaroni to five to 15 months in prison, but suspended that to a month in jail. Macaroni also was ordered to pay a $22,500 fine, which was the amount he would have made off the ride during the fair.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1