ST. LOUIS — Profit over safety.
Yarnell Sampson believes that was the case for his son, Tyre Sampson. The 14-year-old died after falling from a 430-foot Florida drop-tower amusement park ride in March.
In a news conference Monday morning, his father asked for the ride to come down, asked for a permanent memorial and wanted a public apology from the companies involved. This includes Slingshot and ICON Park.
Just last Monday, Sampson's autopsy was released.
The report by the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death was an accident. Sampson slipped out of his seat about halfway down the FreeFall ride.
The autopsy showed that Sampson weighed 383 pounds when he died. The weight limit for the ride was 287.
An initial report by outside engineers hired by the Florida Department of Agriculture said sensors on the ride had been adjusted manually to double the size of the opening for restraints on two seats. This resulted in Sampson not being properly secured.
"The autopsy was finally received and confirmed everything we suspected. Tyre was too big to be on the ride," Attorney Ben Crump said Monday. "The weight limit was 287 pounds but they didn’t follow their own restrictions."
Crump elaborated that Tyre died from blunt force trauma to his head, blunt force trauma to his torso, blunt force trauma to his extremities, and multiple internal organs were lacerated.
Sampson’s parents have sued the ride’s owner, manufacturer and landlord, saying they were negligent and failed to provide a safe amusement ride.
On Monday, his father shared the disappointment that the memorial on site was no longer there.
He said he was promised the company would clean it up and make it look better to allow more fresh items at the memorial. Sampson said it's the ride that should be removed.
"I think the ride needs to come down because that’s a permanent reminder, every time I look up at that ride that my son actually had fell down 400 some feet crashing to the earth to his death," Sampson added.
Sampson shared the goal is to get 25,000 signed petitions to get FreeFall taken down permanently.
He also said his son's death has weighed heavy on him, losing 15 pounds from emotional turmoil. This Father's Day was also his birthday.
"This is the first year and the first time that me as a father, that I don’t have him with me on Father’s Day and my birthday. This is my celebration to be with my son," Sampson said. "We’re from St. Louis... Illinois — they thought they were going to sweep it under the rug. I am a fighter. As long as I’m here, I’m going to speak up for him, he deserved that."
The Tyre Sampson bill
Florida State Representative Geraldine Thompson is proposing a Tyre Sampson bill on the very first day of the legislative session.
Currently, it's already required for operators of these kinds of rides to send the manufacturer’s guidelines to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Then, the department inspects to make sure everyone is in compliance with the guidelines.
Thompson said after the inspection and a permit being given, the Slingshot group adjusted the seats.
"This bill that will be introduced and will take into account the safety record of any company that wants to operate a ride of this nature, the bill would say we will take into account the safety record of the operator who has had previous experience," Thompson explained.
She added that Slingshot wants to open a second ride.
"They've gotten a lease from ICON Park, it's the second lease, and want to open a second ride as if Tyre Sampson's life was inconsequential. There should be no permit. We want signage so a potential rider will know for him or herself what the weight and height limit is. They are absolutely tone deaf to say that they are going to open a second ride to make money even as we are still investigating with this ride," Thompson added.
An attorney for the ride’s owner, Orlando Slingshot, has said the company is cooperating with state investigators in the case.
On Monday, Orlando Slingshot attorney Trevor Arnold shared this statement with 5 On Your Side:
"We support the concepts outlined today in Florida Senator Geraldine Thompson’s ‘Tyre Sampson Bill’. The safety of our patrons always comes first. Our company is not planning to open a new ride at ICON Park, however we do hope to reopen the Slingshot ride, once we have all the necessary approvals from the Department of Agriculture. Also, we have been coordinating with representatives of Tyre’s family to return items from the memorial area to them, and we will continue to do so in the future."
Arnold also stated that the Slingshot ride was closed after the fatal incident on FreeFall. They hope to reopen the Slingshot ride.