SANTA ANA — A carnival worker arrested on suspicion of fondling three girls at the county fair Saturday denied that he deliberately touched them, and said the girls accidentally ran into him in the haunted house when they became scared.
Richard Allen Lee, 41, a convicted child molester, said in a jail interview that he had gone into the Cactus Jack's Haunted House looking for his stepson who worked at that attraction. The haunted house is near a game booth that Lee was working at before being arrested July 16 at the Orange County Fair.
"I'm walking along in the dark area (of the haunted house), I hear screams ahead of me, and I ran into someone, I didn't know if the person was male or female," said the native of Fallon, Nev., who has been traveling with carnivals for 14 years. "Nothing was said. Nothing was done.
"I stopped and waited a few minutes before continuing. Then I come to the end (of the haunted house), there's a guy there who jumps out at you with a chain saw, and most people get scared and they run out the back door like they're supposed to. These three idiots (the girls) turned and ran into me and backed me into a wall," said Lee.
The contact both of those times was an accidental collision, he said. He said the girls, aged 12 to 14, might have thought he was groping their bodies when he had just put up his hands to steady himself.
The three girlfriends from Santa Ana and Riverside then ran from the Haunted Shack screaming that someone had rubbed his hands all over them, according to officials of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
A supervisor with B & B Amusements, which operates the haunted house, grabbed Lee as he exited and held him until sheriff's deputies arrested him.
He was charged with nine counts of felony child molestation. His arraignment at Harbor Municipal Court in Newport Beach was postponed until Friday. Lee was being held in the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana in lieu of $50,000 bail.
"If I had wanted to do something stupid like what they're saying, I would not do it where there is a whole lot of people," he said. "Unlike the news reports saying I escorted those girls in because they were scared to go in by themselves, they were already in there. I was just going in to look for my stepson."
Lee declined to identify his stepson for privacy reasons.
Fair spokeswoman Jill Lloyd said she did not know if he had a stepson also working at the carnival.
As a result of Lee's arrest, fair organizers will discuss possible changes in hiring policy, she said.
Lee said he did not escort the three girls into the haunted house, but added that he and other workers routinely accompany children and adults.
Buddy Mertin, president of B & B Amusements, said carnival workers do not escort people into the haunted house and said Lee does not have a stepson working in the carnival.
Asked if he has fondled any minors at the fair, Lee quietly but quickly shook his head.
According to records in Harbor Municipal Court in Newport Beach, Lee was convicted of felony child molestation in November, 1973, in Carson City, Nev. He also has a misdemeanor child molestation conviction from March, 1979, in Hanford, Calif.
In the jail interview, Lee admitted only to the felony conviction and said he did not know about the misdemeanor conviction.
He said that in the 1973 incident, he had just left a bar after celebrating his 21st birthday when he met a girl whom he took to a motel. The girl was 14 years old.
Under California law, Lee was required to register as a sex offender when he came to Orange County. But Lee said no one told him to do so.