The Father of Teen Killed in Orlando’s Freefall Thrill Ride Calls for Truth

An Orlando father, who lost his son who fell from the Orlando FreeFall attraction last month, spoke at ICON Park about his son’s death.

Tyre Sampson, 14, of Missouri, died while on spring break in Orlando. The boy’s father, Yarnell Sampson, was joined by his attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard at the 2 p.m. news conference.

“The reason I’m here is to get some understanding and get a few asks, also to pay my respect for myself,” said Sampson, visiting the site of his son’s death for the first time.

“There’s two ways I could go. I could go to depression and hide and let this just fall away, or I can stand up and do the right thing. That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna speak for my son because he was a warrior, he was a young man, intelligent, intellectual.”

Sadly, the video of his son’s fall was the first way Sampson learned about his son’s death.

“How I found out was through the Internet… I was getting off work and (my significant other) asked me to have a seat and she wanted to show me something… I was kinda sickly when I first seen it, but I didn’t even know it was my child. When I found out that was my child, it took my breath out of me. It took some life out of me as well.”

As Nekia Dodd, the boy’s mother spoke at her own news conference from St. Louis, Sampson recounted how they both wanted to change for Tyre, bringing together the theme of “Justice for Tyre.”

“We’re gonna do this together as a family, we’re gonna get through this and we both want change for our child and also we want this company to take accountability for their actions‚” Sampson explained.

“You know, it shouldn’t be profit over safety. It should be safety over profit.”

According to a lawsuit filed Monday, the ride’s operators must have known that riders would be “subject to unreasonably dangerous and foreseeable risks and that serious injury and death of the occupants in the ride could result.”

Slingshot Group, the Florida-based owner and operator of Funtime Thrill Rides, and ICON Park, which leased the space, are among the defendants being sued in the lawsuit.

“Is the manufacturer partly responsible? We believe so. Absolutely. Does that absolve the operators’ culpability? We think not… this was a cascade of gross negligence on multiple parties’ parts. That’s why we have multiple defendants,” Crump said at the news briefing.

NBC’s “Today” show reported Tuesday that Sampson’s family is dealing with the boy’s death “day-by-day, second-by-second, minute-by-minute.” Sampson said he hopes legal action will create change in the industry so that other parents won’t suffer the same fate.

“At the end of the day, his legacy is gonna live on. As long as I got breath in my body to speak up for him, that’s what I’m gonna do,” Sampson told. “Let’s get to the truth.”

An independent forensic engineering firm hired by the family to investigate Sampson’s death found the thrill ride’s operator manually adjusted the seat’s sensors, which rendered the ride unsafe, Sampson’s attorneys announced.

“We hope that the golden age of rides that simulate danger and attract our children come to an end. The only hope now for Yarnell, for Tyree’s mom, is that the myth that these rides are safe and they just appear to be dangerous died that night with poor Tyree when he hit that concrete,” Hillard said.

Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, revealed Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis’ findings nearly a month after the boy’s death. The firm’s 14-page report found the ride itself had no electrical or mechanical problems, as Tyre was able to ride a little even when the conditions were unsafe.

Fried pointed out that the operator of the Orlando FreeFall made “manual adjustments to the ride resulting in it being unsafe” and allowed the harness’ restraint opening to be “almost double” of the normal opening range.

Meanwhile, Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis’ findings report shows the harness sensor of the seat Sampson was in was “manually loosened, adjusted, and tightened to allow a restraint opening of near 7 inches.”

On Tuesday, Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, was also at the news briefing to discuss how she and other state and local officials are tightening safety regulations for amusement rides. According to her, she was “looking at the laws” to require more frequent inspections, extensive employee training, and notifying state authorities any time an amusement ride is altered.

A statement was released by the attorney for Orlando Slingshot, the company operating the ride. It reads:

“Orlando Slingshot continues to fully cooperate with the State during its investigation, and we will continue to do so until it has officially concluded. We reiterate that all protocols, procedures, and safety measures provided by the manufacturer of the ride were followed. We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to implement change in the industry and we are also supportive of the concepts outlined by State Representative Geraldine Thompson to make changes to state law through the ‘Tyre Sampson Bill’ to prevent a tragic accident like this from ever happening again.”

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