The grieving family of a teen who fell to his death at an Orlando theme park last year has finally come to a settlement agreement out of court in a wrongful death suit brought against the park and the operator of the ride on which the young man died, with one huge exception.
Fourteen-year-old Tyre Sampson was on Spring Break from Missouri when he visited Orlando’s ICON Park with friends on March 24, 2022. During their visit, the group of young people was reportedly denied boarding on some rides because of Sampson’s size. Though he was only 14, he stood over six feet tall and weighed over 380 pounds. The group was, however, able to board the Orlando FreeFall drop tower attraction at the park. Standing 430 feet high, the Orlando FreeFall was hailed as the highest drop tower in the world.
Sampson and his friends boarded the attraction, but as an investigation would later discover, Sampson exceeded the weight limit for the ride by almost 100 pounds, and in an effort to compensate for his size, the ride’s restraints were manually adjusted–a practice which was prohibited. At least one investigation determined that the manual adjustment of the restraint created a 7-inch space–ultimately enough of a gap for Sampson to slip through as the ride went into its free-falling mode. As a result, Sampson fell hundreds of feet to the ground below. Shortly thereafter, the young teen succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital.
Sampson’s mother, Nekia Dodd, filed a wrongful death suit in late April 2022 against ICON Park, the entity that leased space to the owner and operator of the ride, Slingshot Group, which was also named in the suit. According to the 65-page complaint filed in Orange County Circuit Court, multiple entities and businesses that either owned, operated, manufactured, managed, designed, or inspected the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride were named in the suit. They included ICON Park Liquor License LLC, ICON Park, Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot LLC, Extreme Amusement Rides, The Slingshot Group of Companies, The Slingshot Group IDL Parent LLC, ID Center (FL) LLC, Orlando Slingshot LLC, Amusement Rides GMBH, Keator Construction LLC, High Rides LLC, and I DRIVE 360 Management Services LLC. In the suit, the family demanded a jury trial.
The lawsuit accused the entities of negligence, failing to safely operate the ride, failing to alert Sampson about weight restrictions on the ride, and failing to fully and properly train employees responsible for operating the attraction at the theme park. The suit further alleged that the businesses failed to provide the necessary restraints for riders, stating that appropriate seatbelts for the attraction would have cost only $22 per seat, for a total cost of approximately $660.
Dismantling of the ride began on Wednesday, and Sampson’s mother was at ICON Park to witness the removal of the giant drop tower structure. Interested parties agreed to have it broken down and removed in October 2022, in addition to being fined $250,000.
“Came down today,” Dodd said to reporters gathered at ICON Park. “It’s my first time in Florida. I hate I had to come down under these circumstances. It’s a bittersweet moment. The ride’s coming down; I’m thankful for that, but my son’s not coming back.”
“My son took his last breath on this ride,” Dodd said. It’s heartbreaking, it’s devastating. It’s a feeling that I hope no parent will have to go through after this ride comes down.”
Michael Haggard, Ms. Dodd’s attorney, said during a news conference that a settlement agreement has been reached between Dodd, ICON Park, and the owner of the Orlando FreeFall ride, Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot. He noted, however, that the suit against the ride’s manufacturer stands.
“The case is not over,” Haggard explained. “This death trap was made by FunTime, who resides out of Austria, who is not under the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission jurisdiction, is not under the jurisdiction of the U.S., except for in this court case.” Haggard had reference to Funtime Handels GMBH, an Austrian-based company that designed and manufactured the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride, and is also named in the suit filed in the matter of Sampson’s death.
Details of the settlement were not made public.