Mother reaches settlement with ICON Park, Orlando FreeFall operator after teen’s fatal fall
(ORLANDO, Fla.) — The mother of a Missouri teenager who fell to his death last year while on the world’s tallest tower drop ride has reached a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit with the Florida amusement park and ride’s operator, her attorney announced Wednesday.
Fourteen-year-old Tyre Sampson died after slipping out of his seat while on the Orlando FreeFall ride at ICON Park on March 24, 2022, falling more than 100 feet to his death, according to the lawsuit. The eighth grader was a star football player who was visiting the theme park with his team during spring break.
Last year, Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot, the ride’s operator, decided to take down the 430-foot-tall attraction in the wake of Sampson’s death.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Nekia Dodd, the mother of Sampson, said during a press conference on Wednesday near ICON Park as the Orlando FreeFall ride continues to be dismantled.
“The ride is coming down, and I’m thankful for that. But my son’s not coming back,” Dodd said.
Wednesday marked the first time Dodd saw the ride where her son died.
“My son took his last breath on this ride. So it’s hard. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
Her attorney, Michael Haggard, announced during the press briefing that a settlement has been reached between Dodd, ICON Park and Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot. They declined to discuss the terms of the settlement, though Dodd said she would like to use it to “keep my son’s legacy alive” by giving back to community sports and schools.
Additional steps to hold other companies accountable continue, according to Haggard, who claimed that the ride’s manufacturer — Funtime Handels of Austria — has tried to “evade responsibility.”
In a statement to ABC News on Wednesday, ICON Park deferred questions about the lawsuit to Sampson’s family.
“While the FreeFall ride is not owned and was not controlled or operated by ICON Park, because it is a tenant on the property, we agree with the owner’s decision to dismantle the ride and our hearts are with the family as they witness this important milestone,” the statement said.
Operator error is suspected as the primary cause in Sampson’s death, according to a forensic engineer’s field investigation report released in April. The report showed that the individual operator of the FreeFall ride, who was not identified, “made manual adjustments to the ride resulting in it being unsafe.”
According to the report, manual manipulations were made to the seat Sampson was sitting in to allow the harness restraint opening to be loosened, apparently to accommodate the more than 300-pound teenager. The investigation found Sampson’s harness restraint opening was “almost double that of a normal restraint opening range.”
The Tyre Sampson Act, a Florida bill that aims to protect future amusement park riders with increased safety regulations, advanced after its first hearing on Monday.
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