Parents sue after teen’s fatal fall from amusement park ride


Tyre Sampson, 14, was killed on Thursday, March 24, 2022, after he fell from an amusement ride at Orlando’s ICON Park. His parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the park and several others.

Courtesy of The Haggard Law Firm

A 14-year-old’s fatal fall from an amusement park ride in Orlando, Florida, last month was captured on video as horrified onlookers watched from below.

Now his parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the park and several others.

Nekia Dodd and Yarnell Sampson filed a civil complaint on Monday, April 25, in the 9th Judicial Circuit of Orange County alleging the owners of ICON Park failed to install seat belts, disclose design flaws and administer first aid to their son, Tyre Sampson, after he fell from a ride known as the Orlando Free Fall.

Tyre was on the Free Fall ride at ICON Park around 11 p.m. on March 24 when he slipped out of his seat as it plummeted 430 feet to the ground, the lawsuit said. A witness who was recording at the time posted video of the incident on Facebook.

Michael Haggard of The Haggard Law Firm, who is representing Tyre’s parents, said in the lawsuit that the teenager “fell at least a hundred feet to his death.”

“Tyre was a fourteen-year-old young boy who was an honor-roll student and football player,” the complaint states. “Despite his prowess on the football field, he was known as a kind-hearted person who cared about others. Tyre had a long and prosperous life in front of him that was cut short by this tragic event.”

Representatives from the companies named as defendants did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on April 25.

Tyre, who is from St. Louis, Missouri, was vising ICON Park with the family of a friend, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. He was reportedly taken to a hospital after the fall, where he later died from his injuries.

Video of the incident appeared to show the ride come to an abrupt stop at the halfway point as it made its way to the ground, McClatchy News previously reported. Tyre could be seen slipping from his seat and falling feet first. (Note: McClatchy News is not showing the video because of its nature.)

This is a video screenshot of the ride Orlando Free Fall at Icon Park in Orlando as it began to rise prior to the deadly fall. Facebook video screenshot

The Orlando Free Fall, which opened in December, is advertised as the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower. There are 30 seats on the ride, which climbs to the top of the tower and rotates before tilting forward 30 degrees to face the ground and falling 400 feet at speeds over 75 mph.

Riders experience a G-force of around 4 during the fall, according to the lawsuit.

“To put this into perspective, the g-force experienced by astronauts during shuttle take-off is 3,” attorneys said in the complaint.

The Orlando Free Fall has been shut down indefinitely since the incident.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services conducted an investigation and found “manual adjustments were made” which resulted in “the ride being unsafe.” A seat sensor, specifically, was impacted by those adjustments, which led to an ill-fitting harness.

Most free fall rides have both a shoulder harness and seat belt, lawyers for Tyre’s family said. But the Orlando Free Fall only has an over-the-shoulder harness.

According to the complaint, it would have cost ICON about $660 to outfit all 30 seats on the ride with an additional seat belt.

Tyre’s parents have accused the park and others of negligence, saying they failed to operate a safe ride, implement safe height and weight restrictions, properly train employees and install adequate restraint systems or fail stops if someone isn’t restrained correctly. Their lawyer also said ICON negligently advertised the dangerous ride to families and children and didn’t require a second employee to cross-check whether Tyre was properly secured in his harness.

The owners of the ride were also accused of negligence in its operation and upkeep by, in part, manipulating and adjusting the sensors on certain seats.

Tyre’s parents have asked for damages to cover the loss of his potential earnings as well as his medical and funeral expenses. They’re also seeking damages for pain and suffering as well as attorney’s fees.

The defendants listed in the lawsuit include ICON Park and its owners as well as the Slingshot Group, which owns and operates the Orlando Free Fall. The ride manufacturer, Funtime Handels GMBH, the maker of the seat and its safety harness, Gerstlauer Amusement Rides GMBH, and the general contractor, Keator Construction LLC, are also named.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She has a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

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