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Teen who fell to his death from ride exceeded weight limit, autopsy says

The Orlando Free Fall in ICON Park. (Stephen M. Dowell/AP)
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A 14-year-old boy who fell to his death from a Florida amusement park ride in March died of blunt force trauma to his head and body, according to an autopsy report from the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Tyre Sampson died March 24 after he fell from the Orlando Free Fall — a ride at ICON Park that drops nearly 400 feet at speeds of more than 75 mph and is advertised as the “world’s tallest free-standing drop tower.” The teen, who played football in Missouri, stood more than 6 feet tall and weighed 383 pounds, the report noted. The maximum passenger weight for the ride is 287 pounds, according to the maintenance manual.

The chief medical examiner determined that Tyre suffered facial fractures and lacerations as well as numerous internal injuries.

His death was ruled an accident.

“No one could have survived this preventable fall from over a hundred feet in the air at that speed,” Michael Haggard, an attorney for Tyre’s mother, Nekia Dodd, told The Washington Post on Tuesday. Tyre’s parents have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against ICON Park and the ride’s operator and manufacturer, among others, though they are being represented by separate attorneys.

“The autopsy report also confirms that Tyre was almost 100 pounds over the limit of passenger weight allowed,” Haggard said in a statement to The Post. “The negligence in this case is unrebuttable.”

An attorney for Tyre’s father did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Teen dies after falling from Florida amusement park ride

Earlier this year, Tyre’s father, Yarnell Sampson, told NBC-affiliate WESH that he learned about his son’s death when he saw a video of the fall on social media, saying, “It felt like somebody hit me so hard in the stomach. I just lost wind.”

A 65-page lawsuit filed in April by Tyre’s parents states that Tyre, an honor-roll student in middle school, visited ICON Park during a spring break trip to Orlando. The lawsuit alleges that no weight restrictions were posted at the ticket counter and that no employee advised the teen that he may have exceeded them.

It states that during the ride, Tyre was “ejected” from his seat and fell “a hundred feet to his death.”

“Tyre had a long and prosperous life in front of him that was cut short by this tragic event,” according to the lawsuit.

His parents are seeking a jury trial.

Forensic engineering firm Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis found in April that a seat sensor had been manually adjusted to allow the ride to operate with a greater opening between the seat and the safety harness. During the ride, Tyre slipped through that gap, according to a report.

The firm, which was hired by the state to investigate the circumstances that led to Tyre’s death, said in its report that he was “not properly secured in his seat primarily due to the mis-adjustment of the harness proximity sensor.”

That adjustment “allowed both safety lights to illuminate, improperly satisfying the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms and allowing the ride to commence even though the ride was unsafe,” according to the report.

After the autopsy results were released this week, Trevor Arnold, an attorney for the Slingshot Group, which owns and operates the Orlando Free Fall and its sister ride, the Orlando Slingshot, called the teenager’s death “a tragic accident.”

“We continue to communicate and cooperate with representatives of Tyre’s family, as well as the Department of Agriculture. We are devoted to working with our lawmakers in making lasting safety changes in the amusement park industry,” he said in a statement.

A 6-year-old fell to her death on an amusement park ride. Operators didn’t see she wasn’t belted, report says.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which collects data on incidents involving amusement park rides, said in March that the most recent numbers showed an annual average of 34,700 injuries associated with amusement attractions, including waterslides, from 2017 to 2019, and 12,400 injuries reported by hospital emergency departments in 2020. The decrease in 2020 is probably the result of closures because of the coronavirus pandemic, the commission said.

Since 2018, at least 15 deaths have been associated with amusement park attractions, according to the agency.

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