Carnival rides in 2018

Mighty Thomas Carnival rides and slides were filled with customers at MontanaFair in 2018.

GREAT FALLS — A Montana carnival worker has been arrested and charged with sexual intercourse without consent.

The Great Falls Tribune reports 28-year-old Lyle Oka allegedly raped a young woman during the 2017 Montana State Fair.

Oka maintains he never had sexual contact with the woman and provided a DNA sample. The DNA matched a sample collected from a vaginal swab of the alleged victim.

According to charging documents, Cascade County Sheriff's Office deputies were dispatched on July 29, 2017, for a reported sexual assault that took place on the grounds of Montana ExpoPark the previous night.

Oka is being held on a $60,000 bond.

It was not immediately clear whether Oka had worked in Billings during MontanaFair.

Oka’s employer, Midwest Concessions Incorporated, could not be reached for comment.

Midwest Concessions serves as a game contractor for Mighty Thomas Carnival, which also runs the carnival at MontanaFair in Billings. In August, Mighty Thomas signed another five-year contract with Yellowstone County to run MontanaFair.  

“I do not know if the gentleman was here or not,” said Ray Massie, director of marketing and sales at MetraPark. “That was two years ago, so it’s hard for us to tell.”

Asked whether the new charge in Cascade County would prompt Yellowstone County to take a different approach to its plans for MontanaFair this year, Massie said it would not.

"No, other than just being — making sure we do our diligence, keeping an eye on things to make sure they don't happen here," Massie said. 

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Massie noted that the alleged assault in Great Falls took place after the fair closed for the night, "and it's kind of hard to police that," he said. 

Mighty Thomas Carnival President John Hanschen said his company drug tests employees and runs their names through sex offender registries before signing them on. He said they also do so for the employees of Midwest and other companies they contract with.

“So we’ll continue our efforts as we’ve done for all these years, as I’ve done for all these years, to make the fair and the carnival a fun and a safe place to be,” Hanschen said.

Massie said he would work to keep the fair safe by continuing to have sheriff’s deputies patrol the grounds during fair hours, and by continuing to train crowd management employees on personal safety.

“Great Falls seems to be a hotbed for it for some reason,” Massie said. “We’ve not had these issues here, that’s for sure.”

In July 2018, another carnival worker was accused of sexually assaulting four people, including a 14-year-old girl, while working at the Montana State Fair.

Two counts against 42-year-old Roberto Salaman-Garcia are misdemeanors and the second two are felonies. He denied the charges in August, his attorney, Meghan Lulf Sutton, told the Associated Press.

Salaman-Garcia was arrested after a police detective reported he groped her while tightening her seat belt on a ride on July 30. Another woman came forward and police say two others reported similar assaults they said occurred on July 29.

Salaman-Garcia's case is pending trial in Cascade County District Court.

In addition to MontanaFair and the Montana State Fair, the Mighty Thomas Carnival is scheduled to work two other events in the state this year: the Rosebud-Treasure County Fair in Forsyth and the Eastern Montana Fair in Miles City. 

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The Billings Gazette's Phoebe Tollefson contributed to this report.