The owner of a popular drop tower attraction at ICON Park in Orlando is denying allegations that they were in violation of state laws in the operation of the attraction.
On Wednesday, Orlando Slingshot, the owner of the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride at ICON Park, filed a request for a hearing to challenge the state’s findings from a months-long investigation conducted by members of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
On March 24, 14-year-old Tyre Sampson was visiting the amusement park from out of state when he and his friends boarded the Orlando FreeFall ride, a drop tower attraction that takes riders to more than 40 stories above the ground, then tilts them forward before dropping them in a free fall for several seconds before touching back down to the ground again.
But moments after the friends boarded the attraction and rode to the topmost point of the experience, the unimaginable happened as Tyre slipped out of his seat and fell more than 400 feet to the ground below. He was transported by paramedics to the emergency room, where he was pronounced deceased.
The attraction was immediately closed while a full investigation into the incident and Sampson’s death was conducted by FDACS and third-party investigators. The State of Florida alleged that safety sensors on two ride harnesses had been adjusted so they could accommodate riders of larger sizes. The investigation also alleged that the owner of the Orlando FreeFall drop tower attraction was aware that ride attendants were told to seat “larger guests” in one of the two seats with adjusted harnesses.
But Orlando Slingshot denies those allegations. The company also denies that those adjustments were made in violation of the ride manufacturer’s specifications and that they were made without the manufacturer’s approval.
“Orlando Slingshot also denies allegations of improper employee training, employees failing to properly check Tyre’s harness for fit before dispatching the ride, “deficient” record keeping on the ride’s maintenance, whether Tyre ‘exceeded the contours of the seat,’ and if the ride manufacturer’s instructions included a maximum weight limit for the ride.”
The state also alleges that an Orlando Slingshot manager backdated employee training records after Sampson’s accident.
In November, FDACS Commissioner Nikki Fried stated that the agency was moving to revoke the operating permit issued for the Orlando FreeFall and that the agency is also seeking to impose a fine of more than $250,000 for violations. Further, she stated that FDACS forwarded the findings of its investigation to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to determine whether criminal charges apply in the incident.
Attorneys for Orlando Slingshot, Trevor Arnold and Brian Bieber, said in a statement that the company “learned of improper employee conduct” after Tyre’s death and then “took immediate action to correct it, including disciplinary action and suspensions.”
“We also promptly provided this information to all investigating parties,” the statement reads. “In order to ensure further safety improvements were made, we brought in two outside firms to improve our training, maintenance, and safety practices. We continue to voluntarily share all needed information with FDACS and the Sheriff’s Office.”
Plans are underway to dismantle the attraction, but according to authorities, that may take a while because of the impending civil lawsuit regarding the accident.
Still, authorities say it could be a while before the Orlando Free Fall is dismantled as the civil lawsuit over the accident continues. A spokesman for FDACS, Ben Kirby, said the agency has spoken with Orlando Slingshot about the removal, but at this time, it remains in place to serve as evidence until the lawsuit is settled or judgment is decided.
Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Tyre’s parents and family as they walk this difficult journey.