Forensic engineering firm hired to determine cause of fatal thrill ride fall, state says

Lawmaker promises Tyre Sampson bill to address any problems uncovered in investigation

ORLANDO, Fla. – A forensic engineering firm has been hired to assist in the investigation into the death of a 14-year-old boy who fell from an Orlando drop tower attraction last week, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried said at a news conference Friday.

According to a report from News4JAX sister station WKMG in Orlando, Tyre Sampson’s cause of death has not yet been determined. He fell from his seat and died on the Orlando FreeFall thrill ride on March 24.

Fried said the forensic engineering firm will look back at the ride’s calibrations and mechanisms in the movement and analyze what may have caused the boy’s fatal fall.

“We are fully committed to finding out what happened so we can better prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. And that’s why we will not be jumping to any conclusions before the information is provided to us and we know all the facts,” she said.

Rep. Geraldine Thompson, whose district contains ICON Park and the amusement parks, said she has been in touch with Sampson’s family attorneys — prominent attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard — and is getting input from the family.

“They’re not interested so much in fixing blame as in fixing the problem. And I’ll be working with them to fix the problem. And if there is legislative action that’s needed to give more authority to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, that’s what we’ll be focused on. Whether that is about training, whether it’s about insurance ... all of the things that they do now, but a lot of that authority is given to the vendor to the company that actually operates the ride,” she said.

She reiterated that without the result of a thorough investigation, it is not possible to conclude what needs to happen moving forward.

“We don’t have all of the facts, so we can’t, in terms of a knee-jerk reaction, say this is what needs to happen, but once we have the investigation, I’ll be working on the Tyre Sampson bill to address whatever the problems are,” Thompson said.

In terms of what FDACS inspects, Fried said the department looks at the “rides itself,” adding that there is no oversight on employee trainings based on current protocol. Manufacturers of attractions provide a suggestion on trainings for employees, but the department ensures training records are up to date.

“We are doing everything that’s per the statute authority that’s been given to us, and a vast majority of the statutory oversight refers back to following the manufacturing guidelines. So our power is limited on following the manufacturer,” Fried said.

Records show the ride operators who were working the night of Sampson’s death filled out a generic training form provided by FDACS. Both were trained roughly four to five weeks prior to the accident and each individual checked and signed all the training boxes on the form on the same day.

The Orlando FreeFall, alongside the Orlando SlingShot and the StarFlyer, are closed indefinitely pending further investigation. The rides are operated by the SlingShot Group, which leases from ICON Park, which released a statement after Fried’s news conference:

We commend the diligence and thoroughness that Commissioner Fried and the team at the Florida Department of Agriculture have shown as they investigate the operation of the Slingshot Group’s Orlando FreeFall ride.

ICON Park looks forward to working with elected officials, regulators, and the amusement industry to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.

As the landlord at ICON Park, our mission is to provide safe family entertainment. We rely on our tenants to be experts at what they do.

In the interests of public safety, ICON Park has demanded that the SlingShot Group suspend not only the operation of Orlando FreeFall, but also the operation of Orlando SlingShot.

Fried said the investigation will take “as long as we need to.”

As that investigation continues, tourists from out of state and overseas continue to stop by a memorial created where Sampson fell to his death.

“You come out here and you’re supposed to have fun with family and now that you see something like this. It’s like, ‘Should we even get on anything? Should we actually do something?’” said Kawan McFarland, who was visiting Orlando from New Jersey with Irene Nunez.

They decided to pay their respects to Sampson by visiting the memorial.

“I guess with time, the darkness will shine to the light. When it does and somebody will have to, you know, pay the consequences,” McFarland said.

About the Authors:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.

Ezzy Castro is a multimedia journalist on News 6's morning team who has a passion for telling the stories of the people in the Central Florida community. Ezzy worked at WFOR CBS4 in South Florida and KBMT in Beaumont, Texas, where she covered Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Being from Miami, Ezzy loves Cuban coffee and croquetas!