Cause of teen’s fatal fall from Orlando thrill ride still unknown

Forensic engineering firm hired, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried was joined Friday by Director Rick Kimsey and Rep. Geraldine Thompson to discuss the investigation into Orlando FreeFall.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The cause of a 14-year-old’s fatal fall from an Orlando drop tower attraction last week has not yet been determined as an investigation continues, according to the state agency leading the investigation.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried was joined Friday by Director Rick Kimsey and Rep. Geraldine Thompson to discuss the investigation into Orlando FreeFall, the thrill ride from which Tyre Sampson fell from his seat and died last week.

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Fried said a forensic engineering firm, which will look back at the ride’s calibrations and mechanisms in the movement, was hired to assist in the investigation and analyze what may have caused the boy’s fatal fall.

“We are fully committed to finding out what happened so we can better prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. And that’s why we will not be jumping to any conclusions before the information is provided to us and we know all the facts,” she said.

Family and friends of the Missouri teen killed in Orlando held a vigil at his hometown football field on Thursday evening.

Thompson, whose district contains ICON Park and the amusement parks, said she has been in touch with Sampson’s family attorneys — prominent attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard — and getting input from the family.

“They’re not interested so much in fixing blame as in fixing the problem. And I’ll be working with them to fix the problem. And if there is legislative action that’s needed to give more authority to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, that’s what we’ll be focused on. Whether that is about training, whether it’s about insurance ... all of the things that they do now, but a lot of that authority is given to the vendor to the company that actually operates the ride,” she said.

She reiterated that without the result of a thorough investigation, it is not possible to conclude what needs to happen moving forward.

“We don’t have all of the facts, so we can’t, in terms of a knee-jerk reaction, say this is what needs to happen, but once we have the investigation, I’ll be working on the Tyre Sampson bill to address whatever the problems are,” Thompson said.

In terms of what FDACS inspects, Fried said the department looks at the “rides itself,” adding that there is no oversight on employee trainings based on current protocol. Manufacturers of attractions provide a suggestion on trainings for employees, but the department ensures training records are up to date.

“We are doing everything that’s per the statute authority that’s been given to us, and a vast majority of the statutory oversight refers back to following the manufacturing guidelines. So our power is limited on following the manufacturer,” Fried said.

Tourists in Orlando pay tribute to a teen who fell to his death.

Records show the ride operators who were working the night of Sampson’s death filled out a generic training form provided by FDACS. Both were trained roughly four to five weeks prior to the accident and each individual checked and signed all the training boxes on the form on the same day.

The Orlando FreeFall, alongside the Orlando SlingShot and the StarFlyer, are closed indefinitely pending further investigation. The rides are operated by the SlingShot Group, which leases from ICON Park, which released a statement after Fried’s news conference:

Fried said the investigation will take “as long as we need to.”

About the Authors:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.