ORLANDO, Fla. – Attorney Ben Crump and the family of a 14-year-old boy who died after falling from an Orlando thrill ride in March held a news conference Wednesday to mark what would have been the teen’s 15th birthday.
Tyre Sampson died on March 24 when he fell from the drop tower attraction at ICON Park in Orlando while visiting from Missouri on spring break. He slipped out of his seat about halfway down the Orlando FreeFall.
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Crump, attorney Natalie Jackson, State Rep. Geraldine Thompson and the teen’s family called for the ride to be torn down and released balloons to commemorate Sampson’s birthday.
“In the normal course of life, the ordinary course of life, you don’t expect parents to have to bury their children. But this was not the ordinary course, the things that happened here, were out of the ordinary. Seats being adjusted, after inspection after a permit, that was out of the ordinary. It was out of the ordinary that the young people who were operating the ride had not been properly trained. That was out of the ordinary,” Thompson said.
She said she was drafting a bill that would address some of the issues that were revealed during the investigation of the teen’s death.
The boy’s father, Yarnell Sampson, said the ride should be torn down and a permanent memorial should take its place to honor his son’s life.
“He would have been 15 years old. He was born Aug. 17, 2007. When he was born, he was a star to me. He always will be a star,” he said.
A lawsuit was filed in April suing Funtime Thrill Rides, the manufacturer; Slingshot Group, the owner-operator in Florida; and ICON Park, which leased the space. 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 the Orlando FreeFall that would have reduced the risk of the rider coming out of the seat.
Yarnell Sampson has called for the ride to be torn down in the past.
“The goal is to get 25,000 signed petitions to get this ride taken down,” Yarnell Sampson said during a June news conference. “What my wish is — I would like to have a permanent memorial here for my son stating that he had passed away and his legacy will live on and give proper respect to the dead that needs it.”
Months after the lawsuit was filed, the Orlando medical examiner’s office released the boy’s autopsy report that revealed he was nearly 100 pounds over the weight limit of the attraction.
The autopsy report revealed the teen weighed 383 pounds and was just over 6 feet tall. According to a manual produced by the manufacturer of the ride, Funtime Thrill Rides, the maximum weight allowance for Orlando FreeFall is listed as 130 kilograms, or 286 pounds.
“We continue to cooperate with all inquiries, and it is our hope that one way Tyre’s name and memory can live on is through the proposed ‘Tyre Sampson Bill,’ which we support,” Trevor Arnold, the attorney for Orlando Slingshot, said. “The loss of Tyre was a tragic accident that we take very seriously.”
An independent forensic engineering firm hired in the investigation found 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, according to Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried.
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