Amusement park agrees to dismantle Orlando FreeFall ride following teen’s death

By: - October 7, 2022 1:30 pm

Tyre Sampson fell to his death on March 24, 2022, on the Orlando FreeFall ride at ICON Park. Credit: Attorney Ben Crump’s Facebook page, dated Aug. 17, 2022

Following the death of a teenager at an Orlando amusement park earlier this year, the late Tyre Sampson will be honored with a scholarship and the ride he fell from will be permanently shut down.

The decision to take down the 400-feet Orlando FreeFall attraction at ICON Park came after Sampson fell from his seat to his death on March 24 and his parents called on the operator, Orlando Slingshot, to swiftly take action.

“We are devastated by Tyre’s death. We have listened to the wishes of Tyre’s family and the community and have made the decision to take down the FreeFall,” Ritchie Armstrong, representative for the Orlando Slingshot, said in a written statement.

“In addition, Orlando Slingshot will honor Tyre and his legacy in the classroom and on the football field by creating a scholarship in his name,” Armstrong said. Sampson was a talented football player preparing to play in high school, CNN reported.

The group is developing a scholarship program in honor of the 14-year-old and the timeline for dismantling the ride “will be determined by the approval of all involved parties and regulatory entities,” according to a statement Thursday from Orlando Slingshot.

“The details of the scholarship are being developed and further information will be shared in the future and after consultation with the family of Tyre,” the company said.

The ride lifted customers into the air and let them drop before coming to a controlled stop.

‘Long overdue’

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump represents the father of the late teenager. And the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services investigated what led to the death of the Black teen from Missouri who was visiting Florida at the time.

Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried released information from the investigation into Tyre Sampson’s fatal fall during a press conference on April 18, 2022. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, an initial investigation into the fatal fall found that the ride operator made “manual adjustments to the ride” that rendered it unsafe, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said during a press conference in April.

Attorneys Crump and Bob Hilliard said in a joint statement Thursday following the announcement of the closure of the ride:

“While this announcement is long overdue, the news today is a relief to Tyre Sampson’s grieving father, who has been advocating for this since the day Tyre fell to his death. The Orlando Free Fall ride never should have been permitted to operate under those faulty conditions. Theme parks, their parent companies, and regulatory agencies must do better to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening to any other family.”

Family files lawsuit

Meanwhile, Crump and Hilliard filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Orange County Circuit Court in late April seeking damages for mental pain and the costs of funeral arrangements and medical care.

The lawsuit alleges that the operator and other defendants failed “to design, construct, build, test, maintain, and inspect the Free Fall amusement park ride to avoid foreseeable injury and death to passengers who are exposed to the risk of falling out of the seat from the Free Fall Drop ride.”

The ride had featured a harness for the seat but no seatbelt, which the lawsuit argues could have prevented Tyre’s death.

“While most free-fall rides of this type have both a shoulder harness and a seatbelt, this subject FreeFall ride only had an over-the-shoulder harness to ‘secure’ riders,” the lawsuit states.

“Installing a seatbelt meeting applicable standards on the FreeFall ride would cost approximately $22 per seat. All of the seats combined would cost approximately $660.”

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, a Democrat from Orange County, had previously pointed out that a seatbelt installed on the ride “could have saved Tyre’s life.”

The manufacturer of the Orlando FreeFall — Funtime Thrill Rides — advocated against seat belts because of the restraint system in place, according to the 177-page “Operations and Maintenance Manual” released by FDACS.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.