Parents of Tire Sampson, who died at a Florida amusement park, say they felt helpless upon learning of their son’s death

By Amir Vera, Jamiel Lynch and Jason Hanna, CNN

Nekia Dodd and Yarnell Sampson described a parent’s worst nightmare when they were told their 14-year-old son, Tire Sampson, had died at a Florida amusement park.

Dodd told reporters on Tuesday that she remembered getting a call late at night on March 24, just before having movie night with her daughter.

“Getting the news over the phone is devastating,” Dodd said. “I couldn’t do anything for my son except cry on the phone. I couldn’t touch it. I couldn’t hold it back. I couldn’t kiss her. I could not do anything. I wouldn’t wish that on any parent.

Sampson, at another press conference on Tuesday, told reporters he had actually watched the horrific viral video of his son’s death before he even knew it was him.

“When I found out it was my child, it took my breath away,” Sampson said, adding that he threw up. “It also took a bit of my life. It made me numb and helpless because I wasn’t there to protect my son.

This wasn’t how Tyr’s spring break was supposed to end, both parents said.

Tire was visiting family friends when he went to ICON Park in Orlando, Dodd said. There he climbed the Orlando FreeFall drop tower, which operators describe as the tallest free-standing drop tower in the world. It sends passengers upward and then drops them nearly 400 feet at speeds reaching over 75 mph, according to the park.

A video circulating on social media shows Tire falling out of his seat about five seconds into the ride. According to an investigation by a forensic engineering firm commissioned by Florida officials, Tire had slipped from his seat because he “wasn’t properly strapped into the seat.”

This week, the 14-year-old’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against multiple defendants.

In mourning on Tuesday, Dodd and Sampson told reporters who their son is and how they want him to be remembered.

“Tire was my personal teddy bear,” says his mother

The last conversation Dodd had with her son was by chance, she told reporters.

As Tyr was leaving for his trip to Florida, he forgot his charger and had to go home.

“I opened the door, and he’s going back to his room, and he’s picking up the little things he left behind. Mind you, we know boys don’t like cuddling because it’s too soft for him. I said, ‘Oh, you came back to give me a hug’ – I actually said my last hug – ‘You came to give me my last hug,’” she said.

Like teenagers do, Tyr was rushing out the door, excited for his next trip. A hug slowed him down. “He turns around and says, ‘I’ll see you on Saturday or Sunday.’ And that was the last time I spoke to my son,” Dodd said.

And, she added, “he ended up giving me a hug.”

“Tire was my personal teddy bear,” Dodd said of her son, who was over 6 feet tall and weighed over 300 pounds.

A football star in St. Louis, Tyre’s mother said he was known as “Gentle Giant” and was also nicknamed “Big Tick.”

“Tick is the name he got from the football team. Big Ticket, which is a ticket out of St. Louis, basically,” Dodd said.

She described her son as “the kind of kid you couldn’t help but want to converse with”.

“You wanted to get to know him — what was he thinking,” she said. “He just got this magnet, like, who is this kid? You know, highly respected, well brought up.

Dodd wants Tyr to be remembered “as a loving young man” and a go-getter.

“He was going to be known, but not like that. He was going to be on the football scene, the NFL team, but not…that kind of path, no.

“He was a warrior, he was smart”, says the father

For a father who was so proud of his son, Tyr’s death meant the loss of so much potential, Sampson said.

The teenager usually visited his dad for spring break, but this year Tire was excited to go to Florida for the thrill of the various amusement parks, Sampson said.

“In the dictionary they have nothing to describe a father or a parent or a mother burying their child, there is no word to describe that. So what I feel right now is sickening. There are days when I can’t get out of bed, get myself to eat, get myself to drink,” he said.

He told himself he had two options: sink into depression or defend his son.

Sampson chose the latter.

“I will speak for my son because he was a warrior, he was a young man, he was smart, intellectual,” he said.

The fact that Tire was an elite athlete didn’t need to be central to his story, Sampson said.

“Let’s talk about the 4.0 intellectual he could have been,” Sampson said. “He could have been a doctor, a lawyer or an academic, an astronaut… The sky is the limit if you have potential. He had a lot of potential. »

State politicians sponsor bill to honor Tire

Dodd and Sampson are represented by different attorneys but filed their lawsuit together.

“This is a lawsuit, there are co-representatives of the estate equally representing the estate of Tire Sampson as a result of his damages and their damages for the loss of a son,” the attorney said. Bob Hillard, who represents Sampson with Ben Crump. .

The Orlando Freefall ride has been closed since Tyre’s death and will remain closed indefinitely.

Sampson said he wanted the ride removed, but Dodd said she didn’t want parents to take away the joy of children at amusement parks over her son’s death.

“If you decide to let them ride rides like that, check it out yourself,” she said. “Get up there and make sure the restraints are in place. Can your child ride a bike? Does your child meet, I assume, the qualifications? You don’t want to deprive the kids of having fun (themselves), but in the same breath…I don’t want this to happen to another family.

Sampson called it “insane” for a child to lose his life trying to have fun.

In response to Tyre’s death, Florida Rep. Geraldine Thompson promised an upcoming bill in the legislature called the “Tire Sampson Bill” that will prevent accidents like this from happening.

Thompson said the bill would honor Tire’s memory and “the promise that lay ahead of him, ensuring that no other child comes to Central Florida for spring break and goes home to A coffin”.

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CNN’s Leyla Santiago, Sara Weisfeldt and Holly Yan contributed to this report.

Harold B. McConnell