Lawmakers respond to News 6 Orlando FreeFall investigation as ride expert uncovers confusion in state law

Owner of ride also releases statement, cooperating with investigation

One lawmaker wants to know why seat belts were not used on the ride in addition to a harness.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Standing outside the ride where Tyre Sampson died last Thursday evening, Florida Rep. Geraldine Thompson wanted to know why seat belts were not included as a backup safety precaution at the Orlando FreeFall.

“I think redundancy is a good thing. If you can have a seatbelt and a passenger airbag and all kinds of things in your car, then certainly there should be no problem with having the harness and a seatbelt on a ride that goes hundreds of feet into the air,” Thompson told News 6.

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The free fall attraction, located in Orange County’s ICON Park, is in Thompson’s district and the lawmaker recently reviewed some of News 6′s findings about the ride, which includes a statement from the manufacturer advocating for no backup seat belts.

“This reflects poorly on all of us actually,” Thompson said. “I would want everybody to come to the table to see what we do going forward to make sure that this does not happen again.”

Orlando FreeFall is currently suspended, pending a state investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Investigators shut down the ride after 14-year-old Sampson fell from the his seat during a free fall simulation on the 430-foot drop tower ride.

An operating manual released by FDACS in an open record request and written by the manufacturer of the ride, Funtime Thrill Rides, show that the maximum weight allowance for a person was 286 pounds. Sampson’s football coach previously told News 6 the teen weighed roughly 320 pounds.

“In my personal opinion, I do not think you can tell someone’s weight by just a visual,” said State Sen. Linda Stewart, who also reviewed News 6′s reports. “I think you are going to have to put something in place. (Maybe) it is a plate that they have to step on that would not tell you what how much they weigh. It just says whether they can get on the ride or they can’t get on the ride.”

Records also show that those operating the ride on the night of Sampson’s death were trained on the how to use the drop tower roughly four to five weeks prior. The records show all of their training courses were completed in one day.

“When you and I go to the beauty salon, our stylist has to have more than 100 hours before they can do something that might cause hair loss. I think that training is certainly one of the areas that we may have to look at,” Thompson said.

Both lawmakers told News 6 while they would look to see if any legislative changes could be done, they first need to review the investigative report from FDACS.

On Wednesday, Ritchie Armstrong, the owner of Orlando FreeFall, released a statement saying:

With the help of ride safety expert Brian Avery, News 6 was able to learn that there is a discrepancy in Florida law.

First, the statute governing amusements rides says signage like age, size, health and weight restrictions must be posted on site.

According to a state rule passed in 2020, however, rides only have to post restrictions if a manufacturer requires it.

According to Orlando FreeFall’s operations manual, manufacturers did ask owners to post signage about height restrictions along with guidelines for “small people” and large people,” both of whom were banned from riding the ride if they could not property fit in the seat.

Weight was not explicitly required to be posted, according to the manual.


About the Author:

Award-winning investigative reporter Merris Badcock joined the News 6 team in October 2020. Merris is the recipient of a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, four Suncoast Emmy Regional nominations, and two first-place Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists’ Awards.