Public Safety

Fair ride switch failed days before accident injuring 5 people

RALEIGH—Five people were taken to the hospital on Thursday night after an incident involving a ride at the State Fair.

At this point in time only three people remain hospitalized.

The ride, known as The Vortex, is located on the lower midway behind the Expo Center. It has a V-shaped center that rotates the car arms and vehicles. It spins, turns and flips passengers upside down.

Witnesses who saw the accident happen say riders were falling out.

The persons injured range in age from 14 through 39 and were all taken to WakeMed in Raleigh. Wake County Sheriff Donny Harrison said preliminary reports show the ride had stopped and people were getting off when it started up again around 9:17 p.m.

The ride had a “operator” that controlled the ride and attendants who help people in and out of the individual units. State Fair representatives said it was a ride attendant who was among the injured.

A news conference was held around 10 a.m. Friday and Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler said the emergency response implemented worked smoothly, and all five people were taken off-site within 20 minutes.

“This was an isolated incident and I hope it does not stop people from coming to the State Fair for the final weekend and enjoying what we have to do. There is plenty to see and do at the State Fair,” said Troxler.

It was also revealed that a call was made on Monday to the sheriff’s office about The Vortex to report the ride was down, Upon investigation, they discovered a switch that locks the passengers in the cars was not working.

The switch was fixed and the ride was reopened.

“They repaired it. We checked it. The ride went back into operation,” said Tom Chambers, chief of the ride inspection unit for the Department of Labor.

State Fair representatives said that state inspectors do not physically inspect rides three times a day, but they ask ride operators to check their equipment three times a day, shut them down during the day, and inspect the equipment.

NC Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said she has full confidence that the rides at the State Fair are safe to operate. She said that inspectors spent over two weeks working on the rides prior to the opening of the fair to ensure they met 100% of the manufacturer’s specifications.

The Wake County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation and they are working with fair officials and Powers Great American Midways to find out what happened.

The midway will be open as normal Friday and The Vortex will remain closed for the rest of the Fair.

– Diana Bosch

5 people injured in State Fair ride incident

RALEIGH—Five people were taken to the hospital on Thursday night after an incident involving a ride at the State Fair.

Witnesses who saw the accident happen say riders were falling out.

The persons injured were all taken to WakeMed in Raleigh. Wake County Sheriff Donny Harrison said there are reports that two of the injured are in serious condition.

The victims range in age from 14 through 39. Among those injured include a ride attendant.

The incident happened on the Vortex ride on the lower midway behind the Expo Center. Sheriff Harrison said preliminary reports show the ride had stopped and people were getting off when it started up again around 9:17 p.m.

The ride has a V-shaped center that rotates the car arms and vehicles. It spins, turns and flips passengers upside down.

State Fair representatives said that state inspectors do not physically inspect rides three times a day, but they ask ride operators to check their equipment three times a day, shut them down during the day, and inspect the equipment.

A news conference was held around 10 a.m. Friday where Sheriff Harrison said the sheriff’s office is working closely with the Department of Labor and the investigation is ongoing.

Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler said the emergency response implemented worked smoothly, and all five people were taken off-site within 20 minutes.

NC Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said she has full confidence that the rides at the State Fair are safe to operate. She said that inspectors spent over two weeks working on the rides prior to the opening of the fair to ensure they met 100% of the manufacturer’s specifications.

The Wake County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation and they are working with fair officials and Powers Great American Midways to find out what happened.

The midway will be open as normal Friday.

NC Crime Lab facing staff retention challenges

RALEIGH—Seventeen forensic experts met in Raleigh Tuesday to discuss how to keep the state crime lab competitive.

An audit three years ago exposed flows in its blood testing analysis three years ago.

A special task force of national forensic experts were briefed at the State Crime Lab in Raleigh Tuesday about the strides in accreditation and certification among scientists, but the challenges of inadequate staff and personnel remain.

“This is a problem North Carolina is going to have to deal with,” said Peter Marone, chairman of the Forensic Science Advisory Board.

The director of the State Crime Lab said they have lost 18 positions over the last year, and half of those left for more competitive pay.

“We’re conducting a revolving door. We get them in and train them. We get them independently certified, put them to work and get them some experience, and then somebody across the street or up the road in Virginia says ‘Here’s $20,000 more. Come and work for me.’,” said Director of the NC State Crime Lab Joe John.

The departure means an increase in the workload, right now there are 7,000 cases pending.

The crime lab is calling on the General Assembly to continue funding the resources needed as they work to bring 19 toxicology scientists on board.

However, with a limited budget for staff, concerns run high.

“Help is on the way, the Calvary is coming, but that won’t help for a significant period of time,” said John.

The NC State Crime Lab is also looking to expand the Western Regional Laboratory in Henderson County in the coming years to serve about 36 counties.

– Linnie Supall

More than 50 new laws in NC include abortion, guns

RALEIGH — Portions of 50 new laws will take effect in North Carolina on Tuesday.

One of those laws will ease restrictions on concealed weapons in restaurants and educational property, but will enforce additional rules on abortions.

People with concealed handgun permits can now bring their weapon inside a restaurant where alcohol is served.

Permit holders will also be allowed to store their guns in a closed compartment inside a locked car at state government parking lots or public schools.

The new abortion law makes it illegal to carry out abortions on the basis of gender and limits abortion coverage in insurance plans offered.

Public safety officials re-examine security for state employees

RALEIGH — There’s existing protocols in place at state buildings, but the Department of Public Safety leaders said Monday’s tragic incident prompted them to re-examine their own safety measures.

Monday’s shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. left Tina Hlabse shaken up.

“You feel for the workers who were there and experienced it,” said Tina Hlabse, who is one of nearly 86,470 state employees in North Carolina.

While workers must use a badge to get clearance in buildings like Hlabse’s office at the Department of Agriculture, she realizes there’s always a risk of a threat.

“Whether you work for the state or a private employer, you worry about the vulnerabilities,” she said.

Gregory Baker is the Commissioner of Law Enforcement at the Department of Public Safety and is in charge of safety at government facilities across the state.

“From Manteo to Murphy, there is a DPS facility of some type,” Baker explained.

He said controlled building access, security presence and safety awareness helps protect workers.

“We go over our protocols again certainly anytime there’s an incident anywhere in the country, it’s going to raise our awareness and the public’s awareness,” Baker said. “But we always make that same appeal to the public in general that if you see something, say something.”

State Capitol Police oversees about 50 state government buildings in wake county with 23,415 employees.

While there’s never been a shooting, Chief Glen Allen said threats of various levels occur ever year. At many buildings like the Capitol, police run the public through security checks and monitor security cameras.

“We try to look at each individual day and each individual encounter with the public as a different circumstance,” explained Allen. “We try to maintain security in the buildings while making sure there is proper access for the public.”

The state’s protocols help put workers like Hlabse feel at ease.

“With all of these events, we hope that it will never happen again,” she said.

– Julie Fertig

Advocates concerned about adult, juvenile corrections consolidation

RALEIGH — Advocates said they are concerned with a North Carolina Department of Public Safety decision to consolidate juvenile justice and adult corrections into one division. The DPS secretary said this should not affect programs currently in place.

“It’s like combining apples and oranges,” said Durham District Court Judge Marcia Morey. “I think a lot of people are very concerned about it.”

This week, Department of Public Safety announced its on-going consolidation process will now put Juvenile Justice and Adult Corrections in one division.

The letter sent to local governments announcing the change said it will not alter the mission or focus of either division, but some child advocates said they are still concerned the consolidation will affect what they consider to be a successful juvenile justice system.

“In the Juvenile Justice System there is much more emphasis on prevention and treatment than there is in Adult Corrections,” said Rob Thompson with the Covenant for North Carolina Children, “And there is also the understand that the juveniles brain is much different than the adults brain and that we need to treat them accordingly.”

“I felt it was in the interest of the children, the juveniles,” said DPS Secretary Frank Perry.

For his part, Perry said advocates should not be concerned. He said the consolidation will help to save money that could be used in the area of juvenile justice.

“I am completely comfortable and at piece with those changes at the top and there will be no changes at the bottom except to give more attention where attention is needed,” says Perry.

For folks like Morey, they said they will be watching this change closely. Morey said sentencing adults in court is meant as punishment and as a deterrent, but for juveniles it as meant as way to rehabilitate them.

“It is two very distinct missions and to combine them,” said Morey, “I think many of us have serious concerns. But only time will tell.”

Using current programs in place, between 200 and 2011, North Carolina was able to reduce its juvenile crime by 27 percent.

– Loretta Boniti