Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is seeking a $250,000 fine against the owners of the Orlando drop tower ride where 14-year-old Tyre Sampson fell to his death in March.
The administrative complaint announced by FDACS Tuesday detailed a variety of alleged safety and operational issues with the 430-foot-tall Orlando Free Fall ride, owned by the Slingshot Group and located near Icon Park. These included unsafely adjusting safety sensors to allow for larger riders, failing to train staff on the ride’s weight restrictions and restraints, and having an unsupervised trainee alone manning the attraction’s emergency stop button.
“When accidents occur, often it’s because many small issues happen at the same time to create a perfect storm,” Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried said in a press conference. “Our goal here was to identify the issues that caused that perfect storm in Tyre’s case and work to prevent them from occurring again.”
Despite the attraction’s operations manual saying the maximum passenger weight allowed was approximately 287 pounds, the 383-pound Sampson was allowed to ride. A preliminary report in April alleged that safety sensors had been manually adjusted to allow for the over-the-shoulder restraints in Sampson’s seat to have an unsafe gap of 7 inches between the seat and the bottom of the harness. In all but one other seat, the harness gap was an average of 3.33 inches. Another seat next to the one where Sampson had been sitting was also improperly adjusted, the report said.
This extra space — which may have expanded to as much as 10 inches during the ride — allowed Sampson to slip through the gap when the ride’s brakes activated during its descent, the report said.
“The ride was allowed to commence, even though the ride was unsafe and led directly to his fall,” Fried said Tuesday.
The new complaint and an accompanying investigative report went into more detail, claiming that attendants were “specifically instructed to seat ‘larger guests’” into the two adjusted seats. Maintenance workers questioned about the changes to safety sensors reportedly asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
FDACS will forward its investigative report to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which will decide whether any criminal charges are warranted.
Sampson family attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hillard said in a statement, “Today’s news from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is a significant step toward full accountability for those responsible for Tyre Sampson falling to his death earlier this year.” Sampson’s lawsuit against the Slingshot Group, Icon Park and the ride’s manufacturer is still pending.
Orlando Free Fall never operated after Sampson’s death. The Slingshot Group announced in October that the ride would be torn down.