‘Had to do this:’ Mother of Tyre Sampson visits Orlando FreeFall site for 1st time since teen’s death

Nekia Dodd, attorneys announced they reached settlement with Slingshot Group, ICON Park

ORLANDO, Fla.The mother of a 14-year-old boy who fell to his death from the Orlando FreeFall thrill ride last year visited the site where her son was killed for the first time Wednesday.

Tyre Sampson, who was visiting Orlando from Missouri on spring break, slipped from his seat on the 400-foot-tall thrill ride in ICON Park and fell to his death on March 24, 2022.

“Unfortunately, when he passed, I wasn’t there for him. So, I had to do this,” the teen’s mother, Nekia Dodd, said at a news briefing Wednesday. “I didn’t want to come under these circumstances, but... I had to. I gotta say, my emotions are all over.”

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Dodd visited the site alongside her daughter, niece and two attorneys, Michael Haggard and Kimberly Wald, of The Haggard Law Firm, who also announced that they had reached a settlement with both Orlando FreeFall’s owner-operator in Florida, Slingshot Group, and the company that leased the space, ICON Park.

The briefing comes nearly a year after Dodd filed a lawsuit against Slingshot Group, ICON Park and Funtime Thrill Rides, the manufacturer.

The teen’s father, Yarnell Sampson, also filed a lawsuit alleging 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.”

His attorneys, Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard, released a statement following the settlement.

“Nothing can ever bring back Tyre to his family, but this settlement speaks to putting entertainment entities on notice that they cannot cut corners in their operations that sacrifice safety. When these companies are irresponsible, it puts innocent lives at risk. With the help of passionate state legislators like Rep. Geraldine Thompson, we will continue working to ensure that a tragic accident like this never happens to another family.”

Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard

Haggard added they are still battling Funtime Thrill Rides, a manufacturer operating out of Austria, in court.

“As of this point in time, the case is not over. This death drop was made by (Funtime Thrill Rides),” Haggard said. “They’ve tried to evade service, they’ve tried to evade responsibility. And please remember it was the manufacturer that said, ‘You don’t need seatbelts.’”

Haggard praised Dodd’s bravery in fighting to get justice for her son and coming down to visit the site.

“My son took his last breath on this ride, so it’s heartbreaking, it’s devastating,” Dodd said. “It’s a feeling I hope no parent will ever have to go through after this ride comes down.”

Dodd and her attorneys also discussed a bill named after Sampson that was recently filed by state Sen. Geraldine Thompson to make amusement rides safer in Florida. The bill continues to advance in the Legislature after a Florida Senate committee approved the Tyre Sampson Safety Act on Monday.

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

Haggard was at the Capitol to advocate for the bill and propose new amendments, including a requirement for a seatbelt and harness for any ride over 100 feet.

“I’m very excited they did decide to add those in because again, it will save another child and family,” Dodd said. “The extra restraints were needed prior to this happening... If you’re going over 150 feet, it’s needed.”

ICON Park released the following statement on Wednesday.

“There is nothing more important to ICON Park than the safety of our guests and employees, and we’ve been supportive in assisting Senator Thompson with her proposed legislation. We agree with the goal to ensure extra diligence and oversight with mid- to small-attraction operators for ride training, testing and process documentation, which we also focus on in our own rigorous ride safety protocols. While the FreeFall ride is not owned and was not controlled or operated by ICON Park, because it is a tenant on the property, we agree with the owner’s decision to dismantle the ride and our hearts are with the family as they witness this important milestone.”


Dodd spoke publicly about her son and his death for the first time last April from St. Louis.

“To get a call over the phone and not to be there as a mother to comfort ... that’s very disturbing. It’s heart-wrenching,” Dodd said . “It’s heart-wrenching. I couldn’t do anything for my son, but I have the phone. I couldn’t touch him. I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t hug him. I couldn’t do anything.”

Since then, the Orlando FreeFall owners have settled with the state, agreeing to pay a $250,000 fine and never again operate the drop tower. Crews begun dismantling the ride in early March.

Dodd said she hopes to keep her son’s legacy alive by giving back to the community.

“I have created a Tyre Sampson Foundation. My goal with that is to support any school athletic program because he was definitely headed toward football,” Dodd said.

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