It’s been nearly a year since 14-year-old Tyre Sampson tragically fell to his death from the Orlando FreeFall Drop Tower at ICON Park. This week, his mother, Nekia Dodd, watched as the ride began to be dismantled.
The horrific incident occurred on March 24, 2022, while Sampson of St. Louis, Missouri, was visiting Orlando with his football team for Spring Break. Bystander video that was captured on the scene shows Sampson falling from his seat about five seconds into the ride’s freefall portion and plummeting nearly 400 feet. Deputies were called to the Park at 11 p.m., and Sampson was taken to the hospital, where he died from his injuries.
The Orlando FreeFall, which described itself as the world’s tallest freefall drop tower attraction, plummeted Guests down a 400-foot freefall drop that hit 75 mph and 4 G’s. The owner’s manual for the attraction listed the ride’s weight limit at 287 pounds – according to police reports, Tyre was just over six feet tall and weighed 383 pounds at the time of the incident. His family’s lawsuit, filed on April 25, alleged that there were no posted weight limits or scales at the site of the ride, rendering Guests unaware of the danger.
The lawsuit investigation also found that a harness sensor in Tyre’s seat had been “manually loosened, adjusted and tightened,” allowing for a larger space than normal between his harness and his seat. This adjustment was improperly bypassed by the ride’s safety sensors and allowed the ride to commence. The lawsuit also alleges that Park staff were not trained properly on the weight requirements, loading procedures, or safety mechanisms.
Proper training and safety mechanisms would have saved Tyre Sampson’s life. On Wednesday, Dodd and her family stated that they had settled their lawsuit against ICON Park but not against Funtimes Handels or Gerstlauer Amusement Rides, the ride’s manufacturers.
The dismantling of the 430-foot attraction began this week, and attorneys for the Orlando Slingshot Group have said they want the ride gone by March 24, which will be the one-year anniversary of Tyre Sampson’s death. “I honestly didn’t think that was going to happen,” Dodd said. “I do appreciate that they have honored my request of removing the ride, but I am still without a son. I guess if I put numbers on it, it is 25% of closure.”
While the terms of the settlement were not disclosed, Dodd said she has created a foundation in honor of Tyre that will focus on school and scholarships. She also worked with state Sen. Geraldine Thompson to introduce the “Tyre Sampson Act”: A bill that would require permanent amusement rides to have additional safety requirements before rides open, additional training of operators, and additional oversight from the state. Dodd will travel to Florida’s state Capitol to support the legislation.