Orlando FreeFall lawsuit: Defendants should have known ride adjustments were unsafe

Tyre Sampson died when he fell from Orlando FreeFall at ICON Park

Attorneys for the family of a 14-year-old boy who fatally fell from an Orlando thrill ride last month formally filed a lawsuit against the ride’s operators in Orange County Monday.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Attorneys for the family of a 14-year-old boy who fatally fell from an Orlando thrill ride last month formally filed a lawsuit against the ride’s operators in Orange County Monday.

Tyre Sampson, 14, died on March 24 when he fell from the Orlando FreeFall attraction at ICON Park in Orlando while visiting from Missouri on spring break.

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Funtime Thrill Rides, the manufacturer; Slingshot Group, the owner-operator in Florida; and ICON Park, which leased the space, are among the defendants being sued in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges the ride’s operators should have known that riders could be “subject to unreasonably dangerous and foreseeable risks, and that serious injury and death of the occupants in the ride could result.”

Regardless, the lawsuit points out that the ride did not have seatbelts, which would have cost operators of Orlando FreeFall $22 per seat for a combined $660 for all seats. It also claims the manufacturer and operator of the ride should have made sure:

  • There were visible warnings for riders about height and weight restrictions
  • The ride should not have been able to function if all riders were not properly secured
  • No one should have been able to manipulate or adjust proximity sensors
  • A monitoring system should have been installed to make sure all rider restraints were properly secured
  • A mechanism should have been installed to stop the ride if a restraint was not properly secured

The lawsuit also points out there were safer alternative designs other than the designs used in Orlando FreeFall that would have reduced the risk of the rider coming out of the seat.

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The attorneys for Sampson’s family said legal action was likely after an independent forensic engineering firm hired in the investigation into Sampson’s death found the operator of the thrill ride manually adjusted the sensors in the seat he was in, which made the ride unsafe.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried announced Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis’ findings nearly one month after the boy’s death. The firm’s 14-page report determined the ride itself did not have an electrical or mechanical failure but a manual adjustment in the seat he was in allowed the ride to operate even when it was unsafe.

Fried said the operator of the Orlando FreeFall made “manual adjustments to the ride resulting in it being unsafe” and allowed the harness’ restraint opening to be “almost double” of the normal opening range. The report shows the harness sensor of the seat Sampson was in was “manually loosened, adjusted, and tightened to allow a restraint opening of near 7 inches.”

During the ride’s descent and slowing, the boy slipped through the gap, “which may have expanded several inches due to inherent seat and harness compliance,” the report said.

While these other factors are being investigated, Fried said the Orlando FreeFall will be closed indefinitely. The department will continue its investigation to determine whether there will need to be any rule or legislative changes, she said.

The Haggard Law Firm and attorney Michael Haggard, who represents the teen’s mother Nekia Dodd, said Sampson’s mother was devastated after the release of the new investigative findings that showed the operator of the Orlando FreeFall ride made manual adjustments to the ride, resulting in it not being safe.

“Just makes it more real that someone really manipulated the ride which caused her son to die,” Haggard said.

Dodd will speak publicly Tuesday for the first time since her son’s death during a news conference in St. Louis, the family’s hometown.

The attorney for the company that operates the ride, Orlando Slingshot, released a statement about the lawsuit. It reads:

“Orlando Slingshot continues to fully cooperate with the State during its investigation, and we will continue to do so until it has officially concluded.   We reiterate that all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided by the manufacturer of the ride were followed.  We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to implement change in the industry and we are also supportive of the concepts outlined by State Representative Geraldine Thompson to make changes to state law through the ‘Tyre Sampson Bill’ to prevent a tragic accident like this from ever happening again.”


About the Authors:

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.

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