Worried parents told security guards that a man was sitting in the water park at Paramount's Carowinds on Sunday, exposing himself.
He was fondling himself, a little girl was sitting on his knee, and the witnesses wanted authorities to do something.
By the end of the day, the accused man was in the hospital and one family said they would never go to the theme park again. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say park officials should have gotten in touch with them sooner – the delay makes it harder for them to investigate.
Todd Rikard was at the water park with his fiancee, their children and other family members when their little ones came over and said a man was touching himself. The family members – six in all – said they saw the man exposed and didn't like the way he was looking at other children. Rikard went to get security.
The family and a representative for the amusement park vary about the details and the speed with which the park responded, but the man the witnesses said was exposing himself wasn't detained or questioned and was still walking around the park as Rikard and his family were filling out paperwork.
Then they saw the man near the exit.
“I walked over to him as fast as I could and said, ‘You need to wait here for the police – the police are on the way.' And he actually pushed me out of the way,” Rikard said. “And that's when I hit him.”
John Taylor, a spokesman for Carowinds, defended the speed of the park's response, saying security officers began acting immediately after they got the complaints. But he concedes that park security didn't call police until after they'd collected witness statements. And CMPD, who is investigating this case with the York sheriff's office because Carowinds straddles the state line, says that delay could impede the investigation.
“This is a serious incident involving children. We should have been notified immediately,” said CMPD spokesman Officer Robert Fey. “And (other witnesses) probably just left the park for the day” preventing officers from collecting more information.
Fey also said the delay allowed the situation to escalate. “If we had been brought on board when we should have been … that assault wouldn't have ever happened.”
CMPD officers hadn't talked with the man accused of exposing himself by late Tuesday. He was taken to the hospital with a concussion and a missing tooth on Sunday, but is expected to be OK. Child welfare authorities in South Carolina, where the man lives, are also investigating, though no one has been charged. The girl sitting on his lap might have been a relative, police said.
Rikard said he was briefly detained by Carowinds security officers after he punched the man but hasn't been arrested or charged.
“When I go somewhere, I expect my children to be safe,” he said. “That day (the staff at Carowinds) definitely failed. Security should have acted right then and there. Any parent that has children, if it happened to them, would have done the same thing.”