The family of a teenager who accidentally fell out of an Orlando amusement park ride has settled their wrongful death lawsuit against the park and ride operators.
The agreement comes a week after the decision to start demolition of the FreeFall ride was announced.
For close to a year, Nekia Dodd has been in litigation with Icon Park and the Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot, which owns the FreeFall ride, over the tragic death of her 14-year-old son, Tyre Sampson.
On Thursday, March 24, 2022, Sampson slipped out of his seat on a 400-foot-tall ride due to its safety harness being extended. An unidentified ride operator manually adjusted the safety sensors on the seats. These seats were informally designated for larger guests and widened to accommodate the size, but still appeared to lock the rider in.
An investigation conducted by Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis firm concluded that an employee at the ICON Park did not follow proper protocol while operating the FreeFall ride on that day.
The review further determined the ride operator should have never let the boy on the ride because he was 285 pounds, a weight too massive for the ride. As a result, the state fined the owners of the ride $250,000 for negligence.
Family attorney Michael Haggard announced the undisclosed settlement between his client and most of the parties to the ride during a news conference on Wednesday, March 15, NBC News reports.
Icon Park released a statement regarding the settlement, saying, “With the utmost respect to the family, we defer any questions on this matter to the family.”
The Missouri native’s death inspired new legislation called “The Tyre Sampson Act.” The bill, unanimously passed by the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee, aims to create safety regulations for amusement parks and tourist destinations.
“Our hearts are with the family as they witness this important milestone,” the park said.
Trevor Arnold of GrayRobinson, P.A., the lawyer for Orlando Slingshot, also commented on the settlement and bill.
“We are pleased that a settlement has been reached. We also continue to support Sen. Thompson in her efforts to make the ‘Tyre Sampson bill’ state law,” the attorney said.
The ride is being torn down the same week as the news regarding the settlement was released. Ride Entertainment has been hired to coordinate the deconstruction of the ride, according to Orlando Slingshot.
“That activity is expected to continue into the following week because of the large size of the ride. We hope to have the ride fully deconstructed before the anniversary of Tyre Sampson’s tragic death, and we will continue to work in that direction and give timeline updates as they are available,” wrote Arnold in a statement to WREG.
Dodd came to Orlando for the first time ever to attend the news conference and for the demolition of the tourist attraction.
“I hate I had to come down under these circumstances. It’s a bittersweet moment. The ride’s coming down, I’m thankful for that, but my son’s not coming back,” Dodd said, with Tyre’s sister Aneeya Gibson and cousin Nyay DeWitt standing next to her.
Dodd notes she has been supported over the last year and appreciates the state of Florida, the Department of Agriculture, and the many people involved with “agreeing and allowing this ride to come down,” adding she believes the ride should have “never been built.”
“My son took his last breath on this ride. It’s heartbreaking, it’s devastating. It’s a feeling that I hope no parent will have to go through after this ride comes down,” she said.
Dodd and her attorneys had one request for those looking to erect giant thrill rides.
FOX 35 reports the mother wants parks to consider rides that go over 100 feet in the air to have a seat belt and a harness.
Sampson’s parent is still in litigation with the other party named in the lawsuit, the ride’s manufacturer, the Austrian FunTime Handels GMBH.
“The case is not over. This death trap was made by FunTime, who resides out of Austria, who is not under the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission jurisdiction, is not under the jurisdiction of the U.S., except for in this court case,” the lawyer said.