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State Fair prioritizes safety after concealed carry controversy, former ride mishaps

The N.C. State Fair is located on Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh and will be open until October 26th.
The N.C. State Fair is located on Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh and will be open until October 26th.

After a ride malfunctioned and injured five people at the 2013 fair and a Superior Court judge weighed in on a challenge to the fair’s long-standing ban on concealed carry weapons, fair officials are concerned that tensions over safety are distracting from the family-friendly environment.

“I want to refocus today on what the state fair is,” said Steve Troxler, N.C. Agriculture Commissioner. “The state fair is about being safe, but it is also about families having fun and enjoying themselves, and I hope that is the focus we see this year.”

A Twinkie in bacon

Fair mainstay Murphy House, an establishment known its fried-food creations, has brought its newest invention to the state fair this year — a Twix candy bar inside a deep-fried Twinkie wrapped in bacon, called the Twinx.

“I was dreaming of something sweet and delicious, and that is what I came up with,” said Matthew Varnadoe of Murphy House.

He said that the deep-fried Oreos remain fairgoers’ fried favorite and that the fair will also feature classics like Krispy Kreme hamburgers and deep-fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

“I thought the Krispy Kreme burger was pretty good,” said Tulley Dominguez, a UNC junior. “The sweetness of the doughnut surprisingly complements the burger.”

New rides include one imported from the Netherlands called the Chaos, which flips riders 360 degrees, said Marc Janas, spokesman for Powers Great American Midways, which provides many of the fair’s rides.

The fair will also have a World War I exhibit with a replica trench that recognizes the war’s 100th anniversary and North Carolina’s involvement in the conflict.

No Vortex this year

But a shadow remains over the fair rides after an accident on the Vortex ride in 2013 injured five people.

An investigation found that the ride operator had tampered with it, causing safety devices not to work properly. The accident spurred felony charges against the operator, which are still being settled in court.

The Vortex will not be at this year’s state fair.

“I think everyone wants to hear us say we have made major changes,” said Dolores Quesenberry, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Labor. “But you have to remember that North Carolina has a stringent inspection program that is one of the best in the country.”

The state requires each ride to meet all of the manufacturer’s standards before it’s allowed to operate, and rides must be inspected each time they’re erected, which is not the case in many states, she said.

Quesenberry said the Department of Labor will have inspectors on site during all operational hours of the fair to oversee the 102 rides, but they do not regulate ride operators, who report solely to their employers.

She said the 2013 Vortex accident is an example of a situation that’s almost impossible to prevent, even with regulations as stringent as North Carolina’s.

“Someone intent on circumventing safety systems is going to circumvent the safety system,” she said.

Gun ban remains

Fairgoers also had to consider the possibility of concealed carry weapons at the fair after Grass Roots North Carolina, a group that works to give gun owners more rights, challenged the fair’s ban on guns.

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The group alleged that the policy violated the state’s concealed carry law — but a Wake County Superior Court judge ruled on Oct. 13 that permit holders would not be able to bring handguns into the fair.

Troxler said he is in favor of the ban and would only reconsider if the legislature or court system ruled otherwise.

“We work hard to make this the safest place it can possibly be,” Troxler said. “I hope the public realizes that there is no other place where the response time will be administered this efficiently — not even in your own homes.”

He said his support of the no-guns policy is not about gun laws. Rather, it’s about minimizing risk.

“We do believe we have a unique mixture of crowds, children, rides and animals here,” he said. “Minimizing the risk is not throwing the possibility of an accidental discharge in that mix.”

About 200 law enforcement officers and 75 to 85 highway patrolmen will be on the grounds on the fair’s busiest days, Troxler said. There will also be an added precaution of metal detectors at every gate.

Dominguez said he did notice more security at the gates, though it didn’t really inconvenience him.

Troxler described these precautions as a necessary evil in today’s world to maintain a safe environment during the family-centric event, but he also recognized the potential hassle for fairgoers.

“This is the premier attraction in North Carolina,” Troxler said. “It comes around once a year, so you got to take advantage of it and help us get the word out this is the safest place you can ever be.”

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