The dad of Tyre Sampson, the 14-year-old who died after slipping out of his seat on a drop-tower ride in Florida this spring, is speaking out after spending his first Father’s Day without his son.
The father asked not only for the attraction to come down, but for the amusement park to erect a permanent memorial to honor his son and for all the companies connected to the tragic death to release a public apology.
On Monday, June 20, Yarnell Sampson spoke at a press conference regarding the death of his son, the family lawsuit, and the response he would like from Icon Park, the ride owner, and manufacturer of the 430-foot FreeFall ride that his son fell from in March, in tribute to his son.
People had come back to the park and left balloons, notes, flowers and candles to express their sadness over Sampson’s death. The amusement park has removed the memorial, against the parents’ wishes, KSDK reports.
While Sampson bemoaned the removal of the temporary memorial set up around the boarded-up ride, he also expressed wishes for the park to demolish the ride and create something in memory of the deceased.
“The classless part about this thing is there is no memorial stating that he passed away here,” Sampson said at the conference. “With my wishes, I would like to have a permanent memorial out here for my son, stating that he passed away and that his legacy will live on.”
He said, “I think the ride needs to come down because that’s a permanent reminder, every time I look up at that ride that my son actually had fell down 400 some feet crashing to the Earth to his death.”
Sampson and his family have organized a petition to have the FreeFall taken down. The set goal is to garner over 25,000 signatures to show community support for the demolition of the ride the father calls a “Death Trap.”
He is also asking for them to release a public apology, exactly a month after an autopsy was released officially revealing Tyre’s cause of death.
“Me and my son’s mother deserve a public apology, stating that ‘we made mistakes, we’re sorry, we can change some things, and maybe we can work with you going forward.’ – I’ve gotten none of those things,” Sampson requested. “So, I’m looking forward to that public apology.”
The dad further spoke about how the young man’s death has impacted him, adding that he has lost weight, 15 pounds, because of the anguish he feels about losing his child. This level of turmoil was further exacerbated by days that typically would be celebratory in nature for him: Father’s Day and his birthday.
“I came down here to show my respects. This year is the first time I didn’t have a birthday party set up for myself, so this is my celebration to be with my son. To respect his wishes, to keep this justice thing going, and to get this thing going toward the right direction as far as change.”
The Orange County Medical Examiner’s Officer said the eighth grader slipped out of his seat and crashed onto the ground to his demise. The office confirmed the young man was 383 pounds in death, exceeding the weight limit by almost 100 pounds.
An investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture revealed the sensors on the attraction were manually adjusted on two of the seats to expand about double the appropriate size to accommodate larger-set people. This was against policy and resulted in the teenager not being secured properly.
Attorney Ben Crump, who is working with the family, said at the conference, “The autopsy was finally received and confirmed everything we suspected. Tyre was too big to be on the ride. The weight limit was 287 pounds, but they didn’t follow their own restrictions.”
He broke it down further, “This is the first year and the first time that me as a father, that I don’t have him with me on Father’s Day and my birthday. This is my celebration to be with my son.”
“We’re from St. Louis… Illinois,” he continued addressing how the defendants have underestimated the family. “They thought they were going to sweep it under the rug. I am a fighter. As long as I’m here, I’m going to speak up for him, he deserved that.”
Some people, like Florida State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, believe, that in death, he deserves to have his name on a bill to further invest in legislation to stop tragedies like this from happening again.
On the first day of the state’s legislative session, Thompson proposed the Tyre Sampson Bill be reviewed for consideration as law.
She explained, “This bill that will be introduced and will take into account the safety record of any company that wants to operate a ride of this nature, the bill would say we will take into account the safety record of the operator who has had previous experience.”
The politician also dropped a bomb on the public, saying, the people who own the ride are looking to put up another attraction — moving on swiftly before the case is settled and operating from a space of business as usual, even in the shadow of Tyre’s death less than four months ago.
“They’ve gotten a lease from ICON Park, it’s the second lease, and want to open a second ride as if Tyre Sampson’s life was inconsequential,” she revealed.
“There should be no permit. We want signage so a potential rider will know for him or herself what the weight and height limit is,” Thompson continued. “They are absolutely tone-deaf to say that they are going to open a second ride to make money even as we are still investigating with this ride.”
The attorney for the Orlando Slingshot company, Trevor Arnold, expressed that the company is in support of the proposed bill.
“We support the concepts outlined today in Florida Senator Geraldine Thompson’s ‘Tyre Sampson Bill,’ ” Arnold said. “The safety of our patrons always comes first. Our company is not planning to open a new ride at ICON Park; however, we do hope to reopen the Slingshot ride once we have all the necessary approvals from the Department of Agriculture.”
He added, “Also, we have been coordinating with representatives of Tyre’s family to return items from the memorial area to them, and we will continue to do so in the future.”