Private ride inspector says 14-year-old who fell from Orlando drop tower too big to ride

Ride operators must train workers to recognize height, weight

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Just hours after 14-year-old Tyre Sampson fell from the Orlando FreeFall to his death late Thursday, state inspectors from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services were at Orlando’s ICON Park honing in their investigation on the ride shoulder restraint bar, meant to keep a rider from falling out.

They lifted the shoulder restraint bar up and down, closing it only partially at times, and even sat in the ride seat.

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Ken Martin, a Virginia-based private ride safety inspector for more than 25 years and certified in two states, said inspectors are looking at all of the ride systems.

“They want to make sure the mechanisms are working,” Martin said. “That includes mechanical, electrical, hydraulic.”

Martin, of KRM Consulting, has testified as an expert witness in trials involving ride accidents and said looking at videos and pictures of Sampson and the thrill ride, one thing is clear in this case.

“The restraint was definitely not properly secured,” Martin said. “I know and have seen pictures of the ride that indicate there are no seat belts on the ride, which would classify as (only) one redundant safety system.”

Martin said he is surprised there are no seatbelts on the Orlando FreeFall and most thrill rides have some sort of redundant, or secondary, restraint. Department of Agriculture inspectors will look at that as part of their ongoing investigation.

“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,” FDACS Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a release Monday. “The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is actively investigating the incident, along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, and we hope the subsequent findings will be able to inform us all as to how this tragedy occurred and will precipitate any changes necessary to better protect patrons of amusement rides in Florida. Committed to transparency, the department will be providing relevant records online and updating those records as able.”

News 6 discovered the department inspected the ride in December 2021, when it first opened, and it passed the initial inspection, but it’s the responsibility of the ride operator to inspect it daily. It’s also up to the operator to properly train workers in securing riders, checking the restraints and starting the ride only when it’s safe to do so.

The department said it’s up to the ride operator to train workers to know who should and who shouldn’t ride.

ICON Park released a statement Monday saying they formally notified the SlingShot Group, the owner of the Orlando FreeFall, demanding it suspends not only of the operation of Orlando FreeFall, but also the operation of Orlando SlingShot immediately until the attractions are deemed safe by authorities.

As the landlord of the 20-acre entertainment destination in the center of the Orlando Entertainment District, ICON Park’s mission is to provide safe, family entertainment. We rely on our tenants to be experts at what they do. In the interests of public safety, ICON Park demands that the SlingShot Group suspend not only the operation of Orlando FreeFall but also the operation of Orlando SlingShot, effective immediately, continuing until such time as a thorough investigation by the appropriate authorities has been completed and all parties are satisfied that the rides are safe for the public.

We continue to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigations of the Orlando FreeFall.

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.

The SlingShot Group has said the StarFlyer, in addition to the Orlando FreeFall and the Orlando SlingShot, will remain closed indefinitely.

“He didn’t fit in the ride, he just didn’t fit in the ride!” Martin said.

Martin said videos he’s seen show the restraint bar wasn’t fully closed and Sampson was too big for the ride.

“We know this young man has been reported by his father that he weighed 350 pounds,” Martin said. “For the sake of discussion, we’re going to assume that when that ride drops at first drop, that there is negative two (G-forces, two times the force of gravity). Those negative two (G-forces) times his weight, 350 pounds, that means that there’s 700 pounds of force that are pushing on his body. And I don’t care how athletic a person is, how strong they are, there’s no way a person who weighs that amount subjected to negative two (G-forces) can hold themselves in the ride.”


Shay Johnson, a woman claiming to be the cousin of Tyre Sampson, who died in a fall from an Orlando thrill ride, has no ties to the family, the teen's mother told the Orange County Sheriff's Office. We have updated our articles to reflect this discrepancy.

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.