JONESBORO, Ind. - A summertime carnival worker has been arrested, accused of sexually abusing two young girls who attended a local street fair, prompting questions about the hiring standards of amusement companies statewide.
"A pedophile's dream job, and something needs to be done about it now, not a week from now, not a month from now. It needs to be done now," the mother of one girl told the Call 6 Investigators.
Ethan Todd Gee, 21 of Greenwood, was jailed in Grant County on two felony counts of child molestation, after police said he lured a 13-year-old girl from a Jonesboro street fair, where he was working as a ride operator for a street festival.
Investigating officers said Gee had bragged to two fellow carnival workers that he was able to have sex with a 13-year-old girl from the midway, and officers then found Gee and the child in a friend's trailer home near the midway.
Police Chief Dennis Conrad told the Call 6 Investigators that a second 12-year-old victim has been located as part of the investigation, which could lead to new felony molestation charges.
"We are looking into the second one," he said, adding that the 12-year-old was sexually abused in a different encounter from the same street fair in Jonesboro.
The mother of the 13-year-old victim said, "He preys on young little girls, so if there's one in the bunch, how many more's in that bunch?"
When she discovered on June 16 that her daughter had left the midway with a carnival worker, she said she rushed to the midway and began knocking on trailers to find supervisors with the amusement company that was putting on the street fair.
She said those supervisors told her they only knew a first name and a street name for their employee.
"When you're going to try to help someone that has a missing 13-year-old, you at least need to know the full name of the person that you're supposed to be supervising," she said.
She described her daughter as a former cheerleader who is now in the 8th grade, usually an A and B student, who had gone to the carnival with a friend.
"They went to the carnival and this guy sweet-talked her, basically," she said as she struggled to hold back tears.
The mother said she plans to push lawmakers to impose tougher hiring requirements for amusement companies statewide.
"These carnival workers need to have a picture ID to work for them and a full name. Just don't hire someone, pay them for cash, and put all of our children at risk like they did mine," she said.
Gee was employed by Poor Jack Amusements of Milton, Ind. The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment about its hiring practices.
Owners and employees at other amusement companies, who were approached by the Call 6 Investigators at other festivals and fairs near Indianapolis, said Indiana law currently allows sex offenders, ex-cons and others with violent pasts to be hired to work around children at carnivals. Those workers said some amusement companies already conduct background checks on their own, but there are no laws requiring such screening.
One large amusement company owner said many firms are doing a good job and getting away from the old tarnished "carnie" image, but he said other companies still hire workers for cash without checking them out.
"There's people that do that," he said.
Illinois lawmakers have tightened hiring requirements for amusement operators, requiring full background checks and barring certain offenders from working on those jobs.
Indiana State Sen. Timothy Lanane (D-Anderson), who serves on a senate committee that oversees amusement regulation, said he wants to examine the Illinois law and work toward bringing Indiana standards up to date.
"I think it's probably one of those cases where we should look at the situation and see if it's prudent to be proactive in this particular case," said Lanane, of the Senate Public Policy Committee.
Some carnival operators told the Call 6 Investigators that even without a law in Indiana, they are often asked by county sheriffs for a full list of names and Social Security numbers of all carnival workers. That allows the sheriffs to run background checks on those workers on their own, the amusement workers said.
Lanane said he wants to bring county sheriffs into the discussion about tightening the hiring standards for carnival workers statewide.
"It only takes one of those circumstances and we say we wished we would have done something, so ... it's something that we should study, take a look at and then go forward with, if appropriate," said Lanane.
The 13-year-old victim's mother said it should be done in a hurry.
"If they don't go ahead and make it stricter on carnivals, you're going to have a lot more victims," she said.
Gee had no
criminal record before his arrest, according to Indiana court records. That means a background check would not have precluded his hiring, but the victim's mother wants better laws to make sure ride operators are able to provide full names and identifying information to police.
"They need to prove who their employees are, and just stop hiring people off the street for cash money. You know, everybody has all these missing kids and stuff, and these carnies are getting by with it," said the mother.
Grant County court records show Gee has pleaded not guilty to the two felony child molestation charges against him. He is scheduled for a court hearing on July 29, with a jury trial scheduled for Dec. 10. His bond was set at $250,000.
Grant County Prosecutor Jim Luttrull said the charges against Gee thus far are a Class A felony and a Class C felony. He declined to discuss the allegations against Gee.
The older victim's mother said that, in addition to pushing for new legislation, she is focused on her daughter's healing.
"She’s 13, and now here he's traumatized her for the rest of her life," said the mother. "She's going to have to receive counseling. How's she supposed to trust another adult?"