No age restriction to operate high-thrill rides in Florida, says ride safety expert

Expert says there are no timelines for training in Florida

A ride safety expert says he would like to see Florida change its training requirements.

ORLANDO – As the investigation into Tyre Sampson’s death continues, a Central Florida safety expert with more than 30 years of experience believes the accident at Orlando FreeFall could be the catalyst needed to make changes to Florida’s ride safety laws.

“There was a series of failures that led up to this, in my opinion, with respect to the operation,” said Brian Avery. “Tyre Sampson should not have been on [Orlando Freefall] in the first place if those were adhered to.”

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Avery is not a part of either the criminal investigation by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office or the state investigation by the Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). The expert is basing his opinion off of records News 6 received through public record requests.

After reviewing the records, Avery believes that a seatbelt could have saved Sampson’s life. “I absolutely do believe that a seatbelt would have saved his life. There is no recommendation or requirement, if you will, for safety devices,” he said.

“In the state of Florida, they enforce what the manufacturer and or designer recommends or requires,” Avery added.

According to a letter released by FDACS, the manufacturer of the ride, Funtime Thrill Rides, did not believe seatbelts were necessary.

As a result, Sampson only had a harness to keep him in his seat.

[RELATED: New records show Orlando FreeFall has weight limit as state continues to investigate teen’s death]

Avery also wants to see changes to Florida’s rulebook when it comes to training ride operators.

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.

“It usually indicates, if everything was signed off on the same day, the training occurred in the same time period,” said Avery, who noted how important record-keeping is. “You want to keep a pretty solid record of when your training does occur so you can reference it in the event that there is a legal issue.”

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Avery said there is no required timeline or required amount of hours under Florida law that ride operators must complete before sending someone 430 feet into the air, and back down again at 75 miles per hour.

“One day to provide and present ASTM standards, state regulations and manufacture materials, and to have hands-on training of the device, and to do a pre-operational inspection, be supervised operating it, and whatnot, in my opinion, it is too little time,” said Avery.

On Wednesday, Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, who oversees the I-Drive corridor, echoed Avery’s sentiments.

“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.

News 6 has not yet confirmed the ages of the ride operators who were working the night of Sampson’s death. In reviewing state law however, Avery said he is not aware of any age requirements mandated by the Florida legislature to operate high-thrill rides. “In my understanding, it is often left up to the manufacturer, or the operator owner to make that kind of determination,” said Avery.

He cautions however that age is not always indicative of experience.

“Age can be an arbitrary number when it comes to operating these types of attractions,” said Avery. “It really has to do with maturity. It has to do with training, and making sure that people are properly trained and take their role seriously.”

The owner of Orlando FreeFall, Ritchie Armstrong, has said he is cooperating with authorities and expects to release more in the days to come.


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.