- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The owner of a ride that malfunctioned at the North Carolina State Fair and injured a family entered a plea Friday to a charge of obstruction of justice.

WRAL-TV reports (https://bit.ly/1QOEBks) Joshua Gene Macaroni entered an Alford plea, meaning he maintains his innocence while pleading guilty because there’s enough evidence to find him guilty.

A Superior Court Judge sentenced Macaroni to five to 15 months in prison, and suspended that to a month in jail. Macaroni must pay a $22,500 fine.

Five people were injured on Oct. 24, 2013, when The Vortex started up unexpectedly as people were disembarking. Investigators determined a safety mechanism had been disabled.

Anthony Gorham suffered brain, skull, neck and spinal cord injuries and spent nearly four months in a local hospital. His wife, Alisha Gorham, and her son and her niece were also seriously injured.

“It was a simple night of fun, and it all turned upside down,” a sobbing Kisha Gorham said in court Friday.

Anthony Gorham is blind in one eye, his wife said. He had to undergo brain surgery, has developed seizures and can no longer work, she said. She still has pain from a shoulder injury she suffered on The Vortex, but said she is more concerned with the mental anguish her son, now 17, continues to suffer.

He feels guilty about talking his family into going to the State Fair that night, she said, and he has since tried to commit suicide and is receiving mental health counseling.

Macaroni said he takes full responsibility for the accident. “I assure this court I will never operate a ride that’s unsafe,” he said. “I promise detailed training, and communication with my employees will be a priority.”

Macaroni had been charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, as had Timothy Tutterrow, who was operating The Vortex on the night of the accident.

Tutterrow pleaded guilty last June to assault with a deadly weapon and had agreed to testify against Macaroni, if needed. He hasn’t been sentenced yet.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said he accepted the plea deals with both men partially because the only person who could testify about how the ride should work is the man in Italy who built the ride.

“In no means do I feel this resolution is adequate,” Cummings said.

The Gorhams have settled a lawsuit over the accident with Macaroni, Tutterrow, Powers Great American Midways, which ran the State Fair midway, and Family Attractions Amusement LLC, the Georgia company that brought The Vortex to the fair. Terms of the settlements haven’t been disclosed.

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Information from: WRAL-TV, https://www.wral.com

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