RALEIGH, N.C. – A ride that jolted into motion at the North Carolina State Fair, injuring five, had been intentionally tampered with to bypass critical safety devices, a sheriff said, with the ride operator accused of assault in an investigation that a prosecutor said could yield more charges.
Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Ga., made his first court appearance Monday to face three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting serious injury. Each count is punishable by up to eight years in prison.
Wake County District Court Judge Keith O. Gregory declined a request during the brief hearing to lower Tutterrow's $225,000 bond. The defendant, dressed in an orange and white striped jumpsuit, was taken back to jail in handcuffs.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said investigators determined the ride had been intentionally tampered with, though authorities have provided no details of the evidence against Tutterrow.
The "Vortex" started moving Thursday evening as people were exiting, dropping riders from heights eyewitnesses estimated at up to 30 feet.
Three people were hospitalized Monday with serious injuries, including a 14-year-old. Two others were treated and released.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said in court he would personally handle Tutterrow's prosecution and that more charges could come.
"There are still some unanswered questions we are trying to get to the bottom of," Willoughby said. "These are very serious charges and we want to make sure we are proceeding in the right way."
Tutterrow's lawyer, Roger W. Smith Jr., said Sunday that his client is a loving husband and father.
"It is such a tragedy what happened and he's just reeling from that," Smith said. "He's devastated and distraught. All his thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured."
Tutterrow's wife and several members of his family traveled to Raleigh for the hearing. They declined to comment on the case as they left the courtroom.
Records show Tutterrow was arrested in Georgia in 2002 on a felony charge of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to four years of probation under a program for first-time offenders, according to records.
He was also arrested in 1997 in Kentucky on a charge of possessing cocaine. Details of how that charge was resolved by the court were not immediately available.
Tutterrow's current lawyer said he knew nothing of those prior charges.
"What I can tell you is that Tim Tutterrow is a good man and he would never intentionally harm anyone," Smith said.
The Vortex had at least one other technical problem at the North Carolina fair. A safety switch that keeps the ride from operating unless seat restraints are engaged malfunctioned on Oct. 21, four days before the problem that injured five.
The ride was temporarily idled as workers replaced the switch, but it reopened that night after being tested, state inspectors said.
The fair ended Sunday night. A few hours later on Monday, a 35-year-old worker dismantling a ride with the same name but totally different mechanisms hurt his leg and was taken to a hospital, Agriculture Department spokesman Brian Long said.
The Vortex that Tutterrow was operating was supplied by Family Attractions Amusement Co. LLC of Valdosta, Ga. Smith said Tutterrow had worked for the company for several years.
Family Attractions was a subcontractor of Powers Great American Midways, a New York company hired by North Carolina's Department of Agriculture to provide rides at the state fair, which ended Sunday night.
Inspectors with the state Labor Department performed safety checks on all the rides before the fair opened. Ride operators are supposed to do three daily operational checks and record those in a log, said Tom Chambers, the chief of the department's ride inspection unit. State inspectors then perform checks of the logs to confirm operators are complying with the rules.