State looks to ride safety legislation as Orlando FreeFall death investigation ends

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Rep. Geraldine Thompson discuss proposals

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Florida Department of Agriculture continued to push for proposed ride safety legislation Tuesday as the investigation into the death of a 14-year-old boy who fell from the Orlando FreeFall thrill ride back in March came to a close.

Tyre Sampson, who was visiting Orlando from Missouri on spring break, slipped from his seat on the 400-foot-tall attraction and fell to his death, a tragedy caused by changes made to the seat’s sensors, the investigation determined.

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Since Sampson’s death, the Orlando FreeFall attraction at ICON Park has been closed and is set to be torn down, but state officials are continuing to seek legislative recourse “to help prevent the kind of tragedy that happened to Tyre from (ever) happening again,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said at a news briefing on Tuesday.

Fried, alongside Sen. Randolph Bracy and state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, introduced the draft framework, which would not apply to larger theme parks, for the proposed legislation back in July.

State officials worked to identify the issues that they believe “played a direct role in (Sampson’s) death,” and on Tuesday, outlined the nine objectives they hope to achieve to bolster ride safety throughout the state.

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

Fried announced the legislative objectives, listed below:

  1. Expand the signage posting requirements for patron qualifications, including the posting of all patron requirements, warnings and exclusions listed in the ride manual.
  2. Increase the number of safety system checks during the ride permitting process before engineers sign off on the annual affidavit.
  3. Update the term “major modifications” to include any modifications of safety settings.
  4. Add department authority to adopt rules for employee training and create a minimum standard for operating, training and retaining program documentation.
  5. Clarify department authority and increase reporting requirements for the documentation of maintenance and changes to safety systems and restraints.
  6. Add authority to require all administrative devices to undergo Ride Commissioning and Certification as part of the permitting requirements.
  7. Provide the department with location and other data from the manufacturer on all tolerances, settings, and specifications related to patron restraints and safety systems.
  8. Increase the accident reporting for amusement rides to require reporting any patron that needs emergency medical services, regardless of how they are transported or what facility they go to for services.
  9. Request new positions with the sole mission of inspecting permanent ride facilities and traveling shows and fairs, monitoring safe operations and verifying training of on-site staff during the operation. In addition to performing unannounced visits, if unsafe conditions were found, safety monitors would immediately remove the ride from service to ensure patron safety and follow-up with appropriate administrative actions.

At the news briefing, Fried also announced the Department of Agriculture is seeking a $250,000 administrative fine against the ride’s operator.

The Slingshot Group operated the Orlando FreeFall and the Orlando Slingshot but after the teen died, owners of ICON Park demanded that the company suspend all ride operations.

Attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard, who were hired to represent Sampson’s family, issued the following statement after the announcement of the administrative fine:

Today’s news from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is a significant step toward full accountability for those responsible for Tyre Sampson falling to his death earlier this year. This week, Tyre’s family will experience their first holiday season without him. His family will always have an empty seat at the table – that anguish deserves accountability in the highest sense from the entities responsible for this tragedy.

Attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard

An independent forensic engineering firm hired in the department’s investigation revealed the operator 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, Fried said earlier this year.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried said the state hired Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis.

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.”

Fried said the administrative complaint was submitted and the department will forward its investigative report and findings to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to consider criminal charges.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement after Fried’s announcement on Tuesday:

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has not received the findings from the Commissioner of Agriculture’s office. Our detectives will examine any information that is sent to us regarding the tragic death of Tyre Sampson to determine whether there was any criminal conduct. At this time, it’s not possible to say whether there would be any criminal charges, what those might be, or against whom.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office

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