ORLANDO, Fla. – As state investigators try to figure out how a teen fell to his death at the Orlando FreeFall ride at ICON Park, News 6 has learned the overseas manufacturer of the ride, Funtime Thrill Rides, has at least a dozen amusement rides in Florida.
Those rides include a slingshot ride and Starflyer at Magical Midway in Orlando, a slingshot ride and Vomatron at Old Town in Kissimmee, and another slingshot ride and Vomatron at Screamer’s Park in Daytona Beach.
Not only do these rides have the same manufacturer, News 6 found they are all owned, operated or advertised by the same Florida-based LLC: Slingshot Group of Companies.
“There is no weight limit. It is just a minimum height,” said Slingshot CEO Ritchie Armstrong last year, speaking to reporters at the media grand opening of Orlando FreeFall (the drop tower) and Orlando Slingshot (the slingshot ride next door). “The minimum height on the slingshot is 44 inches. The minimum height on the drop tower, on the FreeFall is 50 inches. There is no minimum age, and there is no minimum weight and there is no maximum weight.”
News 6, however, found that inside the operation manual for Orlando FreeFall, a maximum weight was included: 130 kilograms or 286 pounds.
The teen who died, Tyre Sampson, weighed over 300 pounds, according to multiple sources.
But patrons like Sampson were never notified about the weight limit because, according to state law, ride owners only have to post patron restrictions required or recommended by the manufacturer. Despite a weight restriction, Funtime Thrill Rides did not require a weight disclosure, according to the operation manual.
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Funtime Thrill Rides has not responded to News 6′s requests for comment since Sampson’s death.
While signage alerting patrons to weight restrictions may not have been a requirement per Funtimes’ operation manual, News 6 found the manual did require Orlando FreeFall owners to post signage related to rider walk throughs, warning large or small people not to ride if they do not fit in the seat.
“If you fit safely in the seat and the harness is secure—there (are) smart pieces of equipment, there (are) sensors on them—none of these operating systems will work unless the seats are engaged, so if you fit safely into the seat, then you ride,” Armstrong told reporters in January.
Despite the requirements for signage warning large and small people, News 6 did not see warnings at the entrance of the ride.
“Orlando Eagle Drop and Orlando SlingShot strictly followed all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided to us by the manufacturer of the ride. We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to implement change in the industry, as the safety of our patrons is where everything begins – always,” Armstrong’s attorney, Trevor Arnold, wrote in an email. A
rmstrong, who is the registered agent for Florida LLCs related to Orlando Eagle Drop and Orlando SlingShot, did not respond directly to our interview requests.
Through a records request, News 6 received the operation manuals for the two Funtime rides closest to the drop tower, rides which are also owned by Armstrong and Slingshot Group. Onsite, News 6 discovered a similar pattern.
At Orlando SlingShot, also in ICON Park, Slingshot Group appears to have followed the operation manual’s protocol by posting the minimum height requirements. However, the manual also required signage for “maintenance mode,” something News 6 did not see at the entrance of the ride.
At Orlando Starflyer, just outside ICON Park, owners again posted the minimum height requirements, but the manual also required signage about emergency operation procedures at the entrance of the ride. Again, News 6 did not see signage related to emergency operation procedures, in the week following Sampson’s death.
News 6 did not see any weight restrictions included in either the Orlando SlingShot or Orlando Starflyer manuals.
At ICON Park, state investigators have closed Orlando FreeFall for their investigation, but investigators previously told News 6 state law only gives them the power to close down rides for investigative purposes.