ORLANDO, Fla. - The owner of the Orlando FreeFall confirmed to FOX 35 News that it has reached an agreement with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to proceed with the dismantling of the attraction where a teenager lost his life last year.
"We are pleased to have resolved this matter with FDACS without the necessity of a formal hearing," wrote Trevor Arnold, GrayRobinson P.A., attorney for Orlando Slingshot. "As we publicly stated since October, we have been preparing for taking down the FreeFall ride once FDACS concluded its investigation."
Tyre Sampson, 14, died in March when he fell to his death after slipping out of his seat on the 430-foot drop tower ride which opened at ICON Park in December 2021. The ride has been closed since June.
The agreement, dated Feb. 6, allows the company to begin coordinating a timeline with all involved parties to take down the ride, which it expects will take several weeks to complete. As part of a settlement, Orlando Slingshot paid a $250,000 fine to FDACS and has agreed to never again operate the drop tower in Florida and will not reapply for a permit to do so in the future.
It has been the wish of Sampson's parents to have the Orlando FreeFall taken down. They are suing the owner, manufacturer, and landlord, claiming they were all negligent and failed to provide a safe amusement ride.
FOX 35 spoke with Yarnell Sampson, Tyre's father.
"Every day feels like a nightmare. Can’t tell him I love you, I’m proud of you those moments are gone. I’m trying to put the piece back together – but I’m suffering," said Sampson.
An autopsy showed that Tyre Sampson suffered numerous broken bones and internal injuries in the fall, which was ruled an accidental death.
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In a wrongful death lawsuit filed in state court in Orlando last spring, Sampson's parents said that the defendants failed to warn their 6-foot-2-inch, 383-pound son about the risks of someone of his size going on the ride and didn’t provide an appropriate restraint system on the ride. According to the ride's manual, the weight limit was 287 pounds. The settlement between Orlando Slingshot and the FDACS will have no impact on this lawsuit.
"Unfortunately, we cannot get our son back. We should have had these measurements in place before, said Sampson. "but fast forward we are here now. That’s the start toward justice. Justice for my son. Justice for Tyre."
An initial report by outside engineers hired by the FDACS said sensors on the ride had been adjusted manually to double the size of the opening for restraints on two seats, resulting in the teen not being properly secured. The report said there were many other "potential contributions" to the accident and that a full review of the ride’s design and operations was needed.
This week, Florida lawmakers proposed a series of changes aimed at bolstering the safety of amusement rides.
A Senate proposal (SB 902) was filed by Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, on Thursday for consideration during the legislative session that will start March 7. The bill named after Sampson would, in part, revise inspection standards.
As an example, permanent rides wouldn’t be allowed to begin operating until a "commissioning and certification report" is filed with the state that certifies the rides were "designed, manufactured, installed, and tested" to the design criteria.
Such reports would have to be filed before the FDACS could inspect and issue permits for the rides.
As another example, the bill would allow the department to conduct unannounced inspections and independent testing by labs linked to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Some information in this article was taken from wire sources including the Associated Press and the News Service of Florida.