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Orlando FreeFall ride to be taken down after teen’s fatal fall


(ORLANDO, FL) — The world’s tallest tower drop ride will be taken down after a Missouri teenager fell to his death while riding it earlier this year, the operator of the Florida amusement park attraction announced Thursday.

Fourteen-year-old Tyre Sampson died after slipping out of his seat while on the Orlando FreeFall ride at ICON Park on March 24. The eighth grader was a star football player who was visiting the theme park with his team.

Orlando Slingshot, which operates the ride, said it has decided to take down the 430-foot-tall attraction in the wake of Sampson’s death.

“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 a statement.

The timeline for decommissioning the ride, which has been closed since the incident, will be determined pending approval from “all involved parties and regulatory entities,” the operator said.

Orlando Slingshot also plans to create a scholarship in Sampson’s name to honor his “legacy in the classroom and on the football field,” Armstrong said.

ICON Park said it supports the removal of the Orlando FreeFall.

“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,” ICON Park said in a statement.

An attorney representing Sampson’s mother, Nekia Dodd, said the ride should have been taken down “immediately” after the teen’s death.

“This is not a ride that can be operated safely, given the design defects,” the attorney, Bob Hilliard, said in a statement. “Dismantling the ride is the right move, though it should have been done immediately after Tyre’s death.”

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Sampson’s father, Yarnell Sampson, called the announcement “long overdue” and one his father has been advocating for “since the day Tyre fell to his death.”

“The Orlando Free Fall ride never should have been permitted to operate under those faulty conditions,” Crump said in a joint statement with Hilliard. “Theme parks, their parent companies, and regulatory agencies must do better to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening to any other family.”

Operator error is suspected as the primary cause in Sampson’s death, according to a forensic engineer’s field investigation report released in April. The report showed that the individual operator of the FreeFall ride, who was not identified, “made manual adjustments to the ride resulting in it being unsafe.”

According to the report, manual manipulations were made to the seat Sampson was sitting in to allow the harness restraint opening to be loosened, apparently to accommodate the more than 300-pound teenager. The investigation found Sampson’s harness restraint opening was “almost double that of a normal restraint opening range.”

Sampson’s parents have filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit accusing ICON Park and other defendants of negligence.

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