Orlando Free Fall to be demolished after Tire Sampson’s death

Orlando Free Fall, a drop tower from which 14-year-old tourist Tire Sampson fell to his death in March, will be brought down, attraction operators said. he said Thursday.

But exactly when that will happen is unclear.

The decision is a relief to Tire’s father, Yarnell Sampson, his attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard said Tuesday.

“[Sampson] has been advocating this since the day Tire fell to his death,” they wrote in a statement calling the announcement “long overdue.”

“The Orlando Free Fall attraction should never have been allowed to operate in such defective conditions,” the statement said. “Theme parks, their parent companies and regulatory agencies must do their best to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening to any other family.”

Billed as the world’s tallest freestanding drop tower at 430 feet, the ride opened at ICON Park in December and had been in use for less than three months when the St. Louis teen got loose and fell when the ride slowed. . to its end.

Ride operator Orlando Slingshot closed Free Fall and its other ride at ICON Park, Orlando SlingShot, after the accident. ICON Park, an International Drive entertainment complex, requested in March that the attractions be closed indefinitely pending a safety investigation.

Tire’s death sparked an immediate public outcry to remove the ride permanently and for ride safety authorities to examine existing safety laws. The teen’s family sued Orlando Slingshot, ICON Park and the ride’s manufacturers and installers in April. That trial is ongoing.

Slingshot CEO Ritchie Armstrong said the company decided to take down the game after hearing those calls.

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“We are devastated by Tire’s death. We have listened to the wishes of Tire’s family and the community, and have made the decision to bring down FreeFall,” Armstrong said in a statement. “In addition, Orlando Slingshot will honor Tire and his legacy in the classroom and on the football field by creating a scholarship in his name.”

The company did not provide a timeline for the trip’s completion on Thursday and said it was pending approval from all parties involved and state regulatory agencies. Details about the scholarship were not yet available.

Shelby Scarpa, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Orlando Slingshot cannot alter or cancel the trip until the agency completes its investigation, but the company has contacted the agency about its decision.

The agency has not released a timetable for the probe, calling it a complex case.

A photo of Tire Sampson rests at a memorial site outside the Orlando Free Fall drop tower at ICON Park in Orlando on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. Tire, 14, died when he fell from the ride Thursday.  The family is pressing for the trip to be closed.  (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

In April, the state agency released an engineering report that found safety sensors on two of the Free Fall’s seats had been modified to open three to four inches wider than other seats. The agency’s investigation into who made the adjustments and when is still ongoing.

The adjustments apparently allowed Tyre, a football player who was 6-foot-2 and weighed 383 pounds, to remove his harness, according to the report. The tire was nearly 100 pounds over the weight limit set by the ride’s manufacturer, reports confirmed.

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Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried previously said she was waiting for the full investigation to be completed before participating in determining the future of the ride.

A statement from ICON Park said the company supported the decision.

“Tyre’s death is a tragedy we will never forget,” the unsigned statement read. “As owner, ICON Park welcomes and appreciates Orlando Slingshot’s decision to remove the attraction.”

Tyre’s parents, Sampson and Nekia Dodd, have both called vehemently for the ride to be dismantled. Dodd told reporters in April that she wanted officials to “just completely get rid of it.”

“It’s too big a risk,” he said. Sampson wants a permanent memorial to his son installed at the site after a temporary memorial was removed this summer.

State Representative Geraldine Thompson, a Democrat from Orlando, has been a strong supporter of the Sampson family and has improved Florida’s travel safety legislation since the accident.

Through a spokesman, he said Orlando Slingshot’s decision “shows consideration for the pain still felt by the Sampson family and members of the community.”

“The continued presence or operation of the Free Fall Ride would be a constant reminder of the disregard for the health, safety and welfare of Tire Sampson and others who patronize our amusement parks.” she said.

Thompson, who was elected to the state Senate in August, has pledged to introduce a bill on behalf of Tire Sampson to the next legislative session in the spring. Early ideas include more frequent inspections for smaller Florida rides, stricter training standards for ride operators, and mandatory safety signs outside rides.

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