Investigators, Family Looking for Answers After Teen Fell from Florida Thrill Ride

State officials and the amusement ride company are investigating how a 14-year-old fell to his death from a free-fall amusement park ride that is 430-feet high, taller than the Statue of Liberty, in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district.

Sheriff’s officials and emergency crews responded to a call late Thursday at the Orlando Free Fall ride, which opened late last year at Icon Park on the city’s International Drive.

A drop ride similar to the one in Orlando, (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman)

The teen was identified Friday as Tyre Sampson, who was visiting central Florida from Missouri with a friend’s family. Detectives investigating the death will look into whether it was intentional or accidental, said Orange County Sheriff John Mina.

“It appears to be just a terrible tragedy,” Mina said. “We will see moving forward what that results in.”

Sampson was taken to a hospital, where he died, sheriff’s officials said. No additional details about the teen or the incident were immediately released.

A video aired by NBC’s “Today” show Friday morning appears to show passengers on the ride discussing issues with a seat restraint Thursday night. The ride then began its trek up the tower before someone is later seen falling from the ride.

“We are absolutely saddened and devastated by what happened, and our hearts go out this young man’s family,” John Stine, sales director with the Slingshot Group which owns the ride, told The Associated Press on Friday morning.

The Free Fall ride and an adjacent ride, the Sling Shot, have been closed indefinitely, Stine said. His company operates the two rides at Icon Park.

“We are cooperating with all other investigations at this time to get to the bottom of what happened,” Stine said.

Stine said there had been no issues reported previously with the Free Fall ride, which opened last December.

Employees and witnesses interviewed by detectives reported no problems beforehand.

“Everything seemed to be OK and normal,” Mina said.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees amusement ride inspections with the exception of the state’s largest theme parks, has launched an investigation and inspectors were at the site Friday, spokesperson Caroline Stoneciper said in an email.

According to a report from the state agency, the ride had its initial permit inspection on Dec. 20, 2021, and no problems were found. The next semi-annual inspection for the ride wasn’t due for several more months.

“The ride will be closed for the foreseeable future and will not re-open until all questions are answered as part of the ongoing FDACS investigation,” the report said.

The ride has over-the shoulder restraint harnesses, with two hand grips at the chest level, that riders pull down and then they are released automatically at the end of the ride. An inspector on Friday could be seen sitting in a ride seat with the security harness over his shoulders as another inspector took measurements.

The ride stands 430-feet (131-meters) tall, and is billed as the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower, according to the park’s website.

The ride holds 30 passengers as it rises in the air, rotates around the tower and then tilts to face the ground before free falling at more than 75 mph (120 kph), the website said.

In 2021, a maintenance technician who was not properly hooked up to a safety device plunged 225 feet (68.5 meters) to his death at a neighboring ride at the park, the 450-foot-tall (137-kilometer-tall) StarFlyer swing ride.

The teen’s family will be represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard, the lawyers announced Saturday, according to news reports..

“This family is shocked and heartbroken at the loss of their son,” Crump, who is representing Yarnell Sampson, Tyre’s father, said in a statement. “A fun theme park visit with his football team should not have ended in tragedy,” Crump said in a statement.

One focus of the investigation will be whether Sampson’s size — he was 6-feet, 5-inches tall and weighed more than 300 pounds — made a difference or if ride operators had taken care to ensure his safety.

On Sunday, the Dollywood amusement park in Tennessee said it has temporarily closed a very similar thrill ride, the Drop Line Ride, “out of an abundance of caution,” the Associated Press reported.

“Although Dollywood does not have the specific ride involved in this tragic incident, the safety of our guests is our top priority,” Dollywood said.