ORLANDO, Fla. (WFLA) — The mother of the Missouri teenager who fell to his death from the Orlando FreeFall attraction at ICON Park last year visited the site for the first time Wednesday. Tyre Sampson, 14, died while on vacation in Orlando on March 24, 2022.
An autopsy showed that Sampson suffered numerous broken bones and internal injuries in the fall, which was ruled an accidental death. It showed Sampson weighed 383 pounds, well above the ride manual’s weight limit of 287 pounds.
Now, the Orlando FreeFall is in the process of being demolished as part of an agreement made between the company and the Florida Department of Agriculture. Orlando Slingshot, the ride operator, told NEWS10’s sister station that it retained the amusement park, Ride Entertainment, to coordinate the deconstruction, which began this week.
“That activity is expected to continue into the following week because of the large size of the ride. We hope to have the ride fully deconstructed before the anniversary of Tyre Sampson’s tragic death, and we will continue to work in that direction and give timeline updates as they are available,” wrote Trevor Arnold, GrayRobinson P.A., attorney for Orlando Slingshot.
Nekia Dodd, Sampson’s mother, spoke to reporters during her visit to the site Wednesday afternoon. “It’s a bittersweet moment,” she said. “The ride is coming down. I’m thankful for that, but my son is not coming back.”
State investigators found that the harness in Sampson’s seat was manipulated to accommodate guests over the ride’s weight limit.
“It’s breathtaking, and not in a good way,” Dodd said. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s devastating. It’s a feeling that I hope no parent ever has to go through.”
Sampson’s family had filed a lawsuit against the owner, manufacturer, and landlord of the ride, claiming they were negligent and failed to provide a safe amusement ride. The suit against Funtime, the Austrian-based ride manufacturer, is still pending.
An attorney for the family said Wednesday that they had reached a settlement with the owner but didn’t provide details. “We are pleased that a settlement has been reached. We also continue to support Sen. Thompson in her efforts to make the ‘Tyre Sampson bill’ state law,” wrote Arnold, Orlando Slingshot’s lawyer.
“I do appreciate the state of Florida, the Department of Agriculture—all those people—for agreeing and allowing this ride to come down,” Dodd said. “It’s a horrendous ride. It should have never been built if you ask me.”
Another focus for the family has been on the Tyre Sampson bill in the Florida legislature, aimed at strengthening the state’s ride safety and reporting laws. The bill would prevent Florida’s smaller attractions operators from making unauthorized adjustments to a ride’s restraint systems and require operators to submit more detailed safety and operational documentation to the state. It recently went to a vote in a Senate committee.
“No matter that the seats were intentionally manipulated. No matter that the sensors were manipulated. A seatbelt would have saved Tyre’s life and that is what Nekia wanted in that bill. Senator Thompson put that in there and it has passed unanimously,” said Michael Haggard, Dodd’s attorney.
A representative from ICON Park said in a statement it supports both the demolition of the ride and the Tyre Sampson 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,” wrote the company in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.