An investigation into the accidental death of a Black teen in an Orlando, Florida, amusement park has found a park employee tampered with the ride’s harness resulting in it becoming unsafe. Reports show the operator manually adjusted the seats assigned to accommodate “larger” riders so wide that it “almost double that of the normal restraint opening range.”
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, during a public update on the ongoing FDACS investigation into the death of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson, confirmed an employee at the ICON Park did not follow proper protocol while operating the Free Fall ride on that tragic day.
She was citing a report written by the Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis firm. They were hired by the state to investigate from an engineering and technical perspective the accident. The report, whose findings were released on Monday, April 18, was completed on Wednesday, April 13.
The analysis read, “Seat 1, which had been occupied by Tyre Sampson, demonstrated accident-related evidence in the form of longitudinal striations on the seat base.”
“Only Seats 1 and 2 demonstrated the more distinctive clamping type marks which evidenced actual tightening of the screws onto the adjustment plate and then loosening and movement of the sensors to a new location.”
“The subject ride did not experience a mechanical or electrical failure,” the report concluded. “The cause of the subject accident was that Tyre Sampson was not properly secured in the seat primarily due to misadjustment of the harness proximity sensor. The misadjustment of the sensor allowed both safety lights to illuminate, improperly satisfying the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms and allowing the ride to commence even though the ride was unsafe.”
While Fried’s team understands what happened on March 24 that caused the ride to gap and led to Sampson’s fall, the investigation now is looking to determine why the decision to go against the company policy was made.
“The report confirmed the manual adjustments had been made to the sensor of the seat in question that allowed the harness of the restrained opening to be almost double that of the normal restraint opening range,” she said.
Rep. Geraldine Thompson said an unidentified ride operator manually adjusted the safety sensors on two seats, designated for larger guests, to open wider but still appear to lock the rider in. But it was this minor adjustment, changing the gap from three inches to about six or seven inches, that gave way for the former football player to slide through the gap between the safety harness and his seat.
Another industry professional, Bill Kitchen, founder and CEO of US Thrill Rides, weighed in on the tragedy, saying, “What has happened here is terrible for everyone concerned” before saying it is “unconscionable that anybody would do that.”
An amusement park expert also revealed he was present during one of the site inspections and showed the 28 other ride seats “just the way the factory had set them.”
Trevor Arnold, an attorney for Orlando Slingshot, the company responsible for the ride, said they have “fully cooperated” with the state and will continue until their investigation is complete.”
“Today’s report suggests a full review of the ride’s design, safety, operation, restraint mechanisms, and history – which of course we welcome,” he remarked.
In a statement, ICON Amusement Park said it was “deeply troubled” about the state’s findings.
The lawyer for the Sampson family, Michael Haggard, said, “They manipulated the ride so bigger people could ride so they didn’t have to turn them away and not take their money is shocking.”
Sampson’s mother Nekia Dodd wrote on her Facebook page, “This is no longer a tragic accident… it’s murder.”
Friends and family wrote comments of comfort under her post. Many agreed it should be considered “murder” and that she should keep fighting for justice for her son.
“God’s not done yet you will get your justice.” Shantel White wrote. “I know that will not bring Tyre back, but it will bring you some sort of relief knowing what actually happened to your baby.”
“So reckless… don’t understand why someone would take a chance with someone’s life like,” Metrea Britton commented on the post about the new findings.
The news comes a day after the mother received Sampson’s eighth grade third-quarter report card from his homeroom teacher, P. Garrett, who doubled as his Language Arts teacher at the City Garden Montessori.
She doted on his work ethic, willingness to volunteer, and his last school project based on Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” play.
She said in his analysis of the work, he focused on one theme, “figuring out who you are is a difficult goal to achieve,” saying she was impressed with his use of the “text to support his thesis.”
Teacher after teacher remarked about his joyful nature and his leadership skills. His Outdoor Education teacher spoke about how this quarter he showed a “goofy” side.
While two teachers made personal notes about his death, one saying her classroom will not be the same without him, one teacher either simply failed to acknowledge he was gone, was blanketly commenting, or didn’t know about his untimely transition — saying that he hopes to see how his “leadership develops as the year finishes up.”
If the teacher is just in denial, he joins Sampson’s brother, who wrote on Facebook on Tuesday, April 19, a day after the findings were released, “Dear Lil bro, I’m waiting for you to tell me you playing. I’m waiting to wake up out my sleep sweating but thankful it was just a dream. I’m waiting for my phone to chime and see a text from you on my screen.”
He continued, “I’ve been waiting… and I’ve been waiting but I haven’t heard a thing. you were blessed with a gift.”
Ending his exchange, “I feel robbed… I feel like a big hole been ripped out of me … I love you forever.”