Family Still Reeling From the Shock of Son’s Death on Theme Park Ride During Spring Break

tyre sampson nekia dodd icon park orlando
Credit: Disney/ABC/Good Morning America/ICON Park/Canva

Tyre Sampson should be 16 years old and a sophomore in high school. Perhaps he’d have a girlfriend and a better idea of what kind of work he’d like to do or the program he’d like to study after he graduates high school. Perhaps he’d have his sights set on first playing football in college.

tyre sampson

Credit: Family of Tyre Sampson/Canva

But Tyre never got to make those choices, as his life was cut short in a tragic accident at ICON Park on International Drive in Orlando, Florida, over spring break in 2022. Nearly two years later, his family is still coming to grips with what happened that night.

A Horrifying Tragedy No One Expected

On the evening of Thursday, March 24, 2022, 14-year-old Tyre Sampson visited ICON Park on International Drive in Orlando, Florida, with a group of friends. He was visiting from out of state during spring break.

icon park

Credit: ICON Park Orlando

He and his peers boarded the Orlando FreeFall attraction, a 430-foot-tall drop tower ride that took riders more than 40 stories above the ground before dropping them from that height. The way the ride was designed to operate included “brakes” that stopped the free fall several feet above the ground so that riders could return to the ground gently and disembark.

Sadly, on the night of March 24, 2022, Sampson slipped out of his seat at a height of more than 400 feet in the air, and the young teen fell to the ground below. He was transported to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

orlando freefall drop tower

Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride/Credit: ICON Park Orlando

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, or FDACS, the state agency that regulates theme park attractions in Florida, conducted investigations into the accident that claimed the life of young Tyre Sampson and shocked and devastated those on the ride and on the ground who witnessed the terrible ordeal.

The Orlando FreeFall Drop Tower Attraction

The Orlando FreeFall drop tower was a popular attraction that opened in December 2021, just three months before Sampson’s death.

The ride featured a tower that stretched more than 400 feet into the sky with a ring of seats that could hold as many as 30 passengers at a time. When it was operational, the ride was said to be the tallest drop tower in the world, and on a clear day, passengers could see Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Contemporary Resort, as well as the Florida coast, from the top of the tower.

orlando free fall drop tower ride

Credit: Disney/ABC

Restraints in Sampson’s Seat Had Been Altered

Months of investigations ultimately led regulators to find that the restraints on Tyre’s seat aboard the Orlando FreeFall had been manually altered, rendering the seat unsafe for any rider during the operation of the attraction.

Per CNN:

Following the tragedy, Florida officials hired forensic engineering firm Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis Inc. to investigate the incident. A harness sensor in Tyre’s seat had been “manually loosened, adjusted and tightened,” allowing for a greater gap than normal between his harness and his seat, the firm’s investigation found.

That “mis-adjustment” of Tyre’s “harness proximity sensor improperly satisfied the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms, causing both safety lights to illuminate and allowing the ride to commence even though the ride was unsafe,” the report said.

Massive penalties were handed down to the owner and operator of the ride, and the Orlando FreeFall was finally dismantled and removed nearly one year after Sampson’s death as his mother, Nekia Dodd, watched.

Dodd said she’s left to “wonder and imagine” what her son’s life would have been like had the tragedy not taken place.

nekia dodd mother of tyre sampson

Nekia Dodd, mother of Tyre Sampson/Credit: Disney/ABC/Good Morning America

A Need for Lawmakers to “Enact Legislation”

The accident brought a spotlight to the potential dangers of theme and amusement park attractions–and for the need for greater regulations of those rides.

icon park orlando

Credit: ICON Park Orlando

Incidents of severe injuries and deaths at traveling carnivals, tourist attractions, fun parks, and the most famous theme parks in the world show that it is time for the state of Florida and even Congress to enact legislation and impose significant regulations to improve the safety of these attractions for the children and families drawn to them,” said Michael J. Damaso, II, of Wooten, Kimbrough, Damaso & Dennis, P.A.

“These companies make a significant profit, at the price of safety to members of the unsuspecting public who are just looking for a thrill, shot of adrenaline, or good time.”

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family of Tyre Sampson, his friends, and all of those affected by this terrible tragedy.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!

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