Appalachian Fair ride operator fined $17,000 after deadly 2011 N.C. incident

North Carolina Department of Labor records show Drew Expositions was cited and fined more than $17,000 in 2011 after two employees fell while disassembling a Ferris wheel at a carnival in Greensboro.

GRAY, TN (WJHL)- The company that operates the rides at the Appalachian Fair in Gray had to pay fines for a 2011 incident that killed a man.

News Channel 11 looked into James H. Drew Exposition after three girls were hurt at the Greene County Fair in another incident involving another company. North Carolina Department of Labor records show Drew Expositions was cited and fined more than $17,000 in 2011 after two employees fell while disassembling a Ferris wheel at a carnival in Greensboro. One employee, who fell 44 feet, died in the incident. Records show a wire cable snapped, causing the sweeps of the wheel to swing and strike a walk board and a man basket, causing the two employees to fall.

James Graybeal is the manager for Drew Expositions. “It was a piece of support equipment that’s used to assemble and unfortunately a couple of employees were involved in that. That extra equipment is not used during operation.” Graybeal said the company is re-inspecting every ride before the Appalachian Fair opens Monday, even though the company has a permit to operate in Tennessee until 2017 without getting another inspection. Graybeal said the fair directors asked the company to bring in third-party inspectors and they agreed to help reassure the community after the Greene County Fair incident.

Graybeal said the inspections were underway in Newport, TN and will continue in Gray. He also said the rides were inspected two weeks ago in Franklin, TN before a fair as part of the company’s commitment to provide safe rides. The most recent inspection reports on file with the state of Tennessee show the last ride inspections were conducted in South Carolina in April 2016. Out of the 35 rides inspected, records show 26 had some violation that had to be corrected, including replacing seat belts, repairing cracks and adding fencing around some rides.

“That’s the whole gist of inspections,” Graybeal said. “It’s mechanical and sure things are going to wear out, but you have to stay on top of it and get it done before the tolerances are too far in.” He said the issues were minor and he is confident in the safety of the rides and Drew Expositions employees. “My safety gauge; I have a 10 year-old granddaughter,” Graybeal said. “I wouldn’t even consider having a piece of equipment that we would operate that I wouldn’t put my granddaughter on.” Graybeal said every Drew Expositions ride goes through a pre-opening inspection every day the rides are in operation.

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