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Ride operator appears in court on US fair injuries

October 29, 2013

RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — A carnival ride operator facing assault charges over injuries from a ride at the North Carolina State Fair made his first appearance in court Monday, with a prosecutor saying there are still unanswered questions about what happened.

Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Georgia, faces 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 Sheriff Donnie Harrison said investigators determined the ride had been intentionally tampered with to bypass critical safety devices, though authorities have provided no details of the evidence against Tutterrow.

The “Vortex” ride jolted into motion Thursday evening as people were exiting, dropping riders from heights eyewitnesses estimated at up to 30 feet (nine meters).

Three people remained hospitalized on 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 as the investigation moves forward.

“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.”

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 Vortex that Tutterrow was operating was supplied by Family Attractions Amusement Co. LLC of Valdosta, Georgia. Smith said Tutterrow had worked for the company for several years.

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Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck

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