ST. LOUIS — Tyre Sampson's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against multiple businesses Monday morning.
Nekia Dodd and Yarnell Sampson are the parents of the north St. Louis County teen. The 14-year-old fell to his death last month after he was ejected from the FreeFall tower ride at one of Orlando's most popular tourist attractions, ICON Park.
The ride is the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower, standing at 430 feet. Once the ride reaches the top, it tilts forward 30 degrees and free falls at speeds of more than 75 miles per hour.
While most free-fall rides of this type have both a shoulder harness and a seatbelt, this ride has only an over-the-shoulder harness for riders, the lawsuit alleges.
The middle school student was visiting the park while on spring break.
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The 65-page complaint lists a suit against multiple businesses and demands a jury trial.
Businesses named in the lawsuit include ICON Park Liquor License LLC, ICON Park, Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot LLC, Extreme Amusement Rides, The Slingshot Group of Companies, The Slingshot Group IDL Parent LLC, ID Center (FL) LLC, Orlando Slingshot LLC, Amusement Rides GMBH, Keator Construction LLC, High Rides LLC, and I DRIVE 360 Management Services LLC.
These parties either owned, operated, manufactured, managed, designed or inspected the ride.
The lawsuit alleged there was negligence committed by ICON defendants, Slingshot defendants, manufacturing defendants, and Keator Construction LLC.
The lawsuit lists several points, including that 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.
Beyond that, the suit claims they failed to provide appropriate restraint systems and negligently allowed Sampson to board the ride, despite his height and weight. It claims the cost to add seatbelts would have been only $22 a seat, or about $660 in total.
Their attorney Michael Haggard with Haggard Law Firm said the ride's manual says a rider couldn't be heavier than 287 pounds.
On the day of his death, Sampson was about 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed about 380 pounds.
"They never weighed him, no sign or anything like that and then they put him in a manipulated seat without a secondary restraint system it was an accident waiting to happen," Haggard said.
The lawsuit said no weight or height restrictions were posted at the ticket counter and no one warned him.
A recent engineering report released by Florida officials confirmed a safety sensor was manually adjusted on two seats of the ride. Investigators learned Sampson was sitting in one of the seats.
"The report confirms that manual adjustments were made to the seat for the seat in question that allowed the harness restrained opening to be almost double that of the normal restraint opening range," said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried.
"These misadjustments allowed the safety lights to illuminate, improperly satisfying the ride's electronic safety mechanisms that allowed the ride to operate even though Mr. Sampson was not properly secured in the seat," Fried said.
Beyond that, the lawsuit said there was a failure to provide adequate assistance after his fall and a failure to perform first aid on Sampson.
It also said there's a strict liability against Slingshot defendants, manufacturing defendants, and Keator Construction LLC.
The suit claims the FreeFall ride was defective for several reasons.
The lawsuit also says his parents have suffered and will continue to suffer damages into the future and seek to recover all damages.
- The loss of earnings of decedent Tyre Sampson
- The expense of medical care and funeral arrangements arising from the injury and death of Plaintiffs’ decedent;
- The prospective net accumulations of the Estate of Tyre Sampson
- The mental pain and suffering of Nekia Dodd and Yarnell Sampson as a result of the injury and death of their son
- Any and all other damages that the applicable laws allow
The eighth-grader was looking forward to playing football for East St. Louis High School in the fall.
Sampson also played for 'Bad Boyz,' a nationally ranked youth football program based out of St. Louis.
"Tyre was a fourteen-year-old young boy who was an honor-roll student and football player. Despite his prowess on the football field, he was known as a kind-hearted person who cared about others. Tyre had a long and prosperous life in front of him that was cut short by this tragic event," the lawsuit stated.
On Tuesday, Sampson's mother, Nekia Dodd, plans to talk publicly for the first time since her son died on March 24. They are scheduled to speak at a news conference at 10:30 a.m.
"Her goal is very simple: that no parent ever gets this call that she’s received, that’s changed her life forever," her attorney said.
The full complaint can be read below: