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Orlando FreeFall ride will be taken down after teen’s death, operator says

<i>Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service/Getty Images</i><br/>A Florida drop tower amusement park ride from which 14-year-old boy Tyre Sampson fell to his death in March will be taken down
Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
A Florida drop tower amusement park ride from which 14-year-old boy Tyre Sampson fell to his death in March will be taken down

By Jason Hanna and Jamiel Lynch, CNN

A Florida drop tower amusement park ride from which a 14-year-old boy fell to his death in March will be taken down, the ride’s operator said Thursday.

The decision to take down the 430-foot-tall Orlando FreeFall tower and ride at ICON Park outside Orlando was made because of Tyre Sampson’s March 24 death, the operator said in an online statement.

The ride, which had opened only months before Tyre’s death, has been closed since. Tyre’s family had called for the ride to be taken down, and filed a still-pending wrongful death lawsuit against several entities including the park, the ride’s operator and the ride’s manufacturer.

The timeline for taking down the ride “will be determined by the approvals of all involved parties and regulatory entities,” the statement reads.

Tyre’s father, Yarnell Sampson, said he was having a “happy cry” upon learning the ride will come down.

“It’s an emotional day. I am having a happy cry right now,” Yarnell Sampson told CNN Thursday. “It’s a little piece of justice for my son.”

“But the mission doesn’t stop. This is just part of the cause. A young man lost his life,” he added.

Two attorneys representing Yarnell Sampson said that “while this announcement is long overdue, the news today is a relief to Tyre Sampson’s grieving father, who has been advocating for this since the day Tyre fell to his death.”

“The Orlando FreeFall ride never should have been permitted to operate under those faulty conditions. Theme parks, their parent companies, and regulatory agencies must do better to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening to any other family,” the statement from attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard reads.

In the online statement, an official with the ride operator, Orlando Slingshot, said “we are devastated by Tyre’s death.”

“We have listened to the wishes of Tyre’s family and the community, and have made the decision to take down the FreeFall,” Ritchie Armstrong, an official with Orlando Slingshot, said in the statement. “In addition, Orlando Slingshot will honor Tyre and his legacy in the classroom and on the football field by creating a scholarship in his name.”

The details of the scholarship “are being developed and further information will be shared in the future and after consultation with the family of Tyre,” Orlando Slingshot’s statement reads.

In a separate statement, ICON Park said it supported the decision to take down the ride.

“Tyre’s death is a tragedy that we will never forget. As the landlord, ICON Park welcomes and appreciates Orlando Slingshot’s decision to take down the ride,” the park’s statement reads.

When asked about the scholarship, Yarnell Sampson told CNN: “They are trying to do the right thing. That’s all I want them to do.”

Adjustment to seat sensor meant teen wasn’t secured, report found

Tyre, of St. Louis, was on spring break when he visited ICON Park and got on the Orlando FreeFall ride, then described by its operators as the world’s tallest freestanding drop tower. The ride took riders up and then dropped them nearly 400 feet at speeds that reach more than 75 mph, according to the park.

Bystander video that circulated on social media shows Tyre falling from his seat about five seconds after the ride begins its drop.

Tyre had slipped out of his seat feet-first because he “was not properly secured in the seat,” according to an initial report in April by a forensic engineering firm commissioned by Florida officials to investigate.

That happened, the firm found, because of a manual “mis-adjustment” of a sensor on the seat Tyre occupied.

The seat sensors normally do not let the ride function unless they indicate that each seat’s harness is lowered to a point where it should secure a rider — but the adjustment of the sensor in Tyre’s seat, as well as a similar adjustment on a second seat, allowed the ride to operate with a greater gap than normal between harness and seat, the report reads.

The report by engineering firm Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis Inc. did not say when the sensors for the two seats were moved — other than it happened after they were initially put in place — or who moved them or why they were moved.

The ride’s operations and maintenance manual, posted online by state officials, indicated the maximum passenger weight should be 130 kilograms (approximately 287 pounds). Tyre, just over 6 feet tall, weighed 383 pounds, according to his autopsy.

He died of blunt force trauma, and the manner of his death of was an accident, according to the autopsy.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Shawn Nottingham contributed to this report.

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