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After St. Louis teen's death, Florida seeking fine of more than $250K against freefall ride operator

The Florida Commissioner of Agriculture said the findings would be sent to the Orange County Sheriff's Office for consideration of criminal charges.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida Commissioner of Agriculture announced a fine "exceeding $250,000" against the operator of a ride after a St. Louis teen fell to his death in March.

Tyre Sampson, 14, was on spring break at the time of the March 24 accident. He slipped from his seat about halfway down the ride and fell to the ground below.

On Tuesday, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried announced the fine and said her department's findings would be sent to the Orange County Sheriff's Office for consideration of criminal charges.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was investigating the deadly fall.

Fried said the department's investigation discovered changes made on the ride that she said led to the teen's death. She said he was sitting in one of the two seats on the ride that had manually-altered proximity sensors that allowed for a wider harness opening.

"Because his seat’s harness proximity sensor had been improperly adjusted, the ride was allowed to [start] even though it wasn’t safe and led directly to his fall," Fried said.

Kim Wald represents Tyre's mother, Nekia Dodd, who lives in St. Louis.

"We are happy that something is being done,” Dodd said. "Of course the money of that fine absolutely pales in comparison of the tragedy and the anguish. It never will be able to fully compensate the family by any means."

But she tells 5 On Your Side that the family is glad to see the case being taken seriously.

"It does tell companies, it tells entities if you're going to be operating a ride like this in Florida, there are repercussions. You are going to be held accountable… It sends a message to the other people operating rides and amusement parks in Florida that you can be fined, that rules are in place for a reason,” Wald said.

The family now wants to see new laws to ensure accountability. Tuesday, a Florida lawmaker said she plans on making that proposal.

At the Tuesday press conference, Florida state Sen. Geraldine Thompson announced she would be introducing a bill in the state legislature to ensure rides are safe and properly inspected. She said the bill would be called the 'Tyre Sampson Law'.

Florida is also revoking The Slingshot Group from ever being able to operate the free fall ride.

Sampson's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against multiple businesses in April, claiming they failed to safely operate the ride, failed to warn Sampson of the proper height and weight safety restrictions and failed to properly train employees. The suit also claims they failed to provide appropriate restraint systems and negligently allowed Sampson to board the ride despite being over the weight limit.

In October, the ride operator said it would be closing down the ride in the next few weeks.

The autopsy showed that Sampson weighed 383 pounds when he died. The weight limit for the ride was 287.

Ben Crump, an attorney for the Sampson family, provided a statement Tuesday:

“Today’s news from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is a significant step toward full accountability for those responsible for Tyre Sampson falling to his death earlier this year. This week, Tyre’s family will experience their first holiday season without him. His family will always have an empty seat at the table – that anguish deserves accountability in the highest sense from the entities responsible for this tragedy.”

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