Teenager who died at a Florida amusement park was an outstanding footballer and a kind-hearted ‘gentle giant’, his relatives say


At the age of 14, Tire Sampson mapped out his future: playing professional football and buying his mother a house, according to his father Yarnell Sampson.

Those aspirations were cut short Thursday when Sampson died after falling from the FreeFall drop tower at ICON Park in Orlando, Florida.

The FreeFall takes riders to the top of a 430-foot tower and falls at speeds of up to 75 mph, the ICON Park website says. Operators call it the tallest freestanding drop tower in the world, the sheriff’s office said.

Tyr “was a very good young man. He was a big teddy bear, a gentle giant,” Yarnell Sampson said, adding that Tire would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it.

Tyr, a St. Louis native, was visiting Orlando with his soccer team over spring break, his father said.

“He gave me a reason to live,” Yarnell Sampson told CNN. “He earned the right to have fun and unfortunately he lost his life on that ride.”

Brandon Gregory has only had the opportunity to coach Tire since January during an off-season football program, but he told CNN he had enough time to know the eighth-grader was destined. greatness on and off the field.

“He showed respect for others, he was still saying sir and yes madam in 2022,” Yarnell Sampson said.

Tire attended college in the St. Louis area, but was training at his future high school across the river with Gregory and his players at East Saint Louis High School in East St. Louis, Illinois.

Tire was “someone people like to be around,” Gregory told CNN. “Sometimes guys that big could be intimidating, but he didn’t have that intimidation factor.. just the way he was around some of the smaller guys.”

Yarnell Sampson said his son is 6ft 5in tall and weighs 340lbs

Gregory said Tyr didn’t let his size keep him from performing like his peers.

“We’re leading our training to the brink of disaster, but he still fought,” Gregory said. “Even if he had to take a break, he would.”

Gregory’s last memory of Tyr is of saying goodbye in the weight room before school’s spring break.

“Everyone will remember him as the football player who had a bright future,” Gregory said. “But like I tell my kids, football is going to fall flat at some point and I just think Tire was going to end up being a great dad, a great husband, a great uncle, as well as being a good player. of soccer.”

In a video circulating on social media that allegedly shows the incident, a person falls from their seat about five seconds into the tower’s descent, as the vehicle decelerates before reaching the ground.

While fighting back tears, Sampson told CNN he saw the video of his son’s death on Facebook.

“I saw the video of my son falling, and I couldn’t believe it. My life has stopped,” Sampson said.

The FreeFall ride passed a safety inspection in December before being allowed to open, according to an inspection report obtained by CNN.

Sheriff’s investigators will determine whether the incident was an accident or intentional, and based on an initial investigation, “it appears to be a terrible tragedy,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said.

The ride has been closed until further notice while the incident is investigated.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has statewide responsibility for inspecting all rides in Florida except those in large parks with more than 1,000 employees and which have full-time inspectors on staff.

“The pain behind this can never be taken away, no money, nothing in the world can replace this young man,” Yarnell Sampson said. “It’s just sad to have a young man with a bright future taken from him on a ride.”

Harold B. McConnell