The Washington State Fair has confirmed that a man charged with indecent exposure and drug possession was a ride operator in the fair’s carnival area that caters to small children.
Police arrested 58-year-old Ernest Volk on Sept. 13, after he allegedly was seen masturbating outside a Tacoma home. According to charging papers, he had methamphetamine in his pocket. Court records show he has previous misdemeanor convictions for similar behavior in the late 1990s.
The fair said after Volk’s arrest that he’d been hired by Funtastic, the event’s Oregon-based carnival operator, and since been fired.
It wasn’t clear until the fair issued a press release Saturday whether Volk worked in SillyVille, the children’s ride area whose workers are supposed to receive more stringent criminal history checks than other carnival employees.
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A News Tribune story published online Friday and in print Saturday reported that fair officials did not know whether Volk worked at the children’s area, and were not going to “micromanage” Funtastic’s hiring.
In Saturday’s press release, Kent Hojem, the fair’s CEO said, “Keeping our guests safe is paramount. We have strict protocols in place to ensure this happens. We have a strong partnership with Funtastic and support their decision to immediately terminate their employee.”
It remained unclear Monday how Volk passed a background check to get hired.
More than 15 years ago, he was charged with second-degree criminal trespass for hiding in a hedge to watch a 13-year-old girl sunbathe, and with indecent conduct for masturbating in public, including in front of children near a Tacoma park.
The fair’s statement said Funtastic ran a background check on Volk before he was hired, and that it turned up only an old drug possession charge.
“No information about indecent exposure arrests or convictions was contained in the background check, so he was hired,” the release said.
The fair hasn’t provided details about the type of check used, such as how far back it would have searched. Funtastic has not returned messages left by The News Tribune with its Portland office.
In 2014, the fair said Funtastic had expanded its background check process, so that ride and game operators got a felony check. SillyVille workers received a second check that looked for other arrests and criminal activity.