A 14-year-old Black boy fell to his death after slipping out of his seat on a 430-foot free-fall ride overlooking a busy street in Orlando’s tourist district’s ICON Park. Reports say the teen should never have been allowed on the ride because his weight exceeded the size restriction mandated for operation.
On Thursday, March 24, Missouri native Tyre Sampson met his untimely demise after he fell out of the ride when the magnets of the ride engaged as it was “coming down the tower,” causing him to fall to the ground. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Family, friends and supporters say the ride should be torn down.
Sampson was in Orlando visiting a friend and decided to go with those he was visiting to the popular amusement area to have some fun.
“The FreeFall” was a brand-new installation for the city, only opening four months ago in December 2021. Considered “the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower,” it stood as tall as the Statue of Liberty and could hold 30 people at a time.
According to the manufacturer of the ride, the maximum passenger weight is approximately 287 pounds.
The rising football player, who reports say still had the harness in the “down and locked position when the ride stopped,” weighed 340 pounds when he was admitted on the ride, his lawyers contend.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office released the FreeFall Investigation Report on Monday, March 28, to the public and noted the ride had passed inspections on Dec. 15, 2021, and the operator was trained to operate it.
The operator filed an accident report submitted on the night of the incident, Thursday, March 24. “FreeFall was coming to down the tower. When the magnets engaged the patron came out of the seat. Harness was still in a down and locked position when the ride stopped.”
The ride operator ignored the manual that further stated for them to “be careful when seeing if large guests fit into the seats. Check that they fit within the contours of the seat and the bracket fits properly. If this is not so, do not let this person ride.”
Shay Johnson, Sampson’s cousin, said the operator should have turned the boy away after he was previously turned away from other rides that same evening.
“You told him he couldn’t get on the swing. You told me he couldn’t get on the slingshot,” she said. “So, why did you allow him to get on this if he was overweight?”
“I hate it,” she said in an interview. “I hate that they did not turn him down. … I feel like they just looked [him] over just to get his money.”
Footage from the tragic incident appear to show passengers on the ride share concerns about seat restraints. The Miami Herald describes the ride as having “over-the shoulder restraint harnesses, with two hand grips at the chest level, that riders pull down and then they are released automatically at the end of the ride.”
Another witness who called 911 said, “Bam, went straight through his chair and dropped. It was the biggest smack I ever heard in my life. I seen him hit the ground.”
Yarnell Sampson, the boy’s father, has enlisted attorney Ben Crump to represent the family. In a statement, Crump’s office revealed the family is “shocked and heartbroken at the loss of their son.”
“This young man was the kind of son everyone hopes for — an honor roll student, an aspiring athlete, and a kind-hearted person who cared about others,” Crump continued as he asked the community to join his team as they lift the family in prayer during his time of bereavement.
The civil rights lawyer tweeted, “Please join me in sending prayers to the family of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson as they go through the unthinkable loss of their son — an honor roll student, aspiring athlete, and kind-hearted person who cared about others.”
ICON Park sent its condolences to the Sampson family, calling the incident “the saddest day in the history” of the tourist destination.
The statement read, “We continue to grieve the passing of Tyre Sampson and our thoughts are with his family and friends. This was the saddest day in the history of ICON Park and we’re working hard to make sure this never happens again.”
FDACS and the Orange County Sheriff’s office both said the investigation is ongoing and declined to give a statement other than they were vigilantly working to find out the details of the tragedy and “precipitate any changes necessary to better protect patrons of amusement rides in Florida.”
FDACS commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried said, “Words cannot express the sorrow felt by the tragic loss of such a young man, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this unimaginably difficult time.”
On Tuesday, March 29, according to Fox 35, barriers were placed around the ride to prevent people from getting on it.
Many who love Sampson believe the ride should not just have a fence around it but should be torn down.
The FreeFall and its sister ride SlingShot will remain closed during the investigation.