Family of Missouri boy who fell from amusement ride sues Florida amusement park over his death
The family of a Missouri teenager who died last month after slipping from an amusement ride in Orlando, Florida, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Monday.
Tire Sampson, 14, died March 24 after diving from the Free Fall attraction at ICON Park.
His father and mother, Yarnell Sampson and Nekia Dodd, are named as plaintiffs in the 65-page lawsuit filed in the Orange County 9th Circuit Court.
Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot LLC, owner of Free Fall, and ICON Park were named as defendants. A representative for ICON Park could not be immediately reached on Monday.
Funtime Handels GMBH and Gerstlauer Amusement Rides GMBH, an Austrian company that designed and manufactured the ride, were also named as defendants, NBC News affiliate WESH reported. No representative of the organization could be reached for comment.
Slingshot Group attorneys released a statement on Monday that did not directly address the lawsuit, but said the company was cooperating with state investigators.
“We reiterate that all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided by the ride manufacturer were followed,” the statement read. “We look forward to working with the Florida Legislature to implement changes in the industry and we also support..[…]the “Tyre Sampson Bill” to prevent a tragic accident like this from happening again.
The suit said the teenager’s life had been cut short unnecessarily.
“Tyre was…an honor roll student and football player. Despite his prowess on the football field, he was known as a generous person who cared about others. Tyr had a long and prosperous life ahead of him. which was cut short by this tragic event.oh signs showing height and weight restrictions.”
“ICON DEFENDANTS had a duty to its customers, including the deceased plaintiffs, TIRE SAMPSON, to exercise due diligence in the operation, management, maintenance, design, inspection, construction, testing, repairing and/or monitoring amusement park rides located on its premises, including the Free Fall amusement park ride,” the lawsuit said.
The defendants also failed to train “employees, contractors and agents on proper and safe height and weight restrictions for the Free Fall amusement park ride,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleged that while most rides similar to the free fall are equipped with a harness and seat belt, the free fall ride did not have a seat belt.
The approximate cost to add $22 seat belts to all 30 seats in the ride is $660, the suit said.
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Tire’s father in the lawsuit, said in a statement Monday that the ride and seat maker failed to properly implement safety features. Tire fell at least one hundred feet onto hard pavement after being ejected from the ride, the statement said.
“The defendants in the Tire case were negligent in multiple ways,” Crump said. “One of the most egregious examples was failing to provide a $22 seatbelt on a ride that cost millions of dollars to build.”
“From ride and seat manufacturers and installer to owners and operators, the defendants were more than likely to put in place protective measures, such as seat belts, that could have prevented the death of Tyre. They didn’t, and their bad decisions resulted in fatal consequences for a promising young man and lifelong pain for his family,” Crump said in the statement.
Nikki Fried, commissioner of the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, announced April 18 at a news conference that operator “misfits” contributed to Tyre’s death.
“Manual adjustments were made to the sensor in the seat in question, which allowed the harness opening at the restraint to be almost twice the normal range of the restraint opening,” Fried said.
“These improper settings allowed the safety lights to come on, improperly satisfying the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms that allowed the ride to operate even if Mr. Sampson was not properly secured in the seat,” a- she declared.
Determining whether operator error was a factor is only the first step in the investigation, Fried said, noting that there are many other factors that could potentially have contributed. The investigation is still ongoing, she said.
A field report from Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis Inc. in Tallahassee indicates that Tire slipped through a gap between the seat and an over-the-shoulder harness that lowers over the riders’ torso.
The report indicates that there were no mechanical failures; instead, evidence showed that screws had been tightened and then loosened, and sensors had been moved in his seat. The engineering firm also found that of the 30 seats in the ride, 27 had an average seatback opening of 3.33 inches. However, two seats had retainer openings larger than 6.5 inches, including the seat where Tire sat, which was 7.19 inches.
“The effective retaining opening will widen several centimeters when forced open,” the report said. “During our investigation, two individuals were positioned in a seat with an opening ranging from 6 to 10 inches. Both individuals managed to slip through the restraint opening without any assistance. Individuals were between 6’3 and 6’5 tall and weighed between 200 and 300 pounds.
Officials called the freefall an “immediate serious danger to public health” in an order made public this month.
The order officially closed the ride on March 25, the day after the teenager fell to his death from the freestanding drop tower in front of horrified onlookers.
When it opened in December, the nearly 430-foot freefall was considered the highest in the world. The ride was first inspected on December 20. No abnormalities were found and the ride passed its inspection, officials said. The ride was closed after Tyr’s death.
Photos and videos posted online apparently show Tire was not fully buckled up, with a safety harness well above those of the other riders.
In video of the incident obtained by NBC News, a voice is heard asking, “Why isn’t there that little click, like the seatbelt?”
As the ride takes off, a voice from the ground shouts, “Hey, did you check your left side seat belt?” Seatbelt! Seatbelt!”
Tire was visiting Florida for spring break with his football team. He was a straight college student who “had a bright future ahead of him” and never got into trouble, his uncle Carl Sampson said.