14-year-old boy dies after falling from thrill ride in Orlando
A 14-year-old boy visiting from Missouri fell to his death late at night from a 430-foot-tall thrill ride at an amusement park ride along a busy street in the heart of Orlando's tourist district, officials said Friday.
Sheriff's officials and emergency crews responded to a call late Thursday at Icon Park, which is located in the city's tourist district along International Drive. The boy fell from the Orlando Free Fall ride, which opened late last year.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina on Friday identified the teen as Tyre Sampson, who was visiting central Florida from Missouri with a friend's family. Detectives investigating the death will look into whether it was intentional or accidental, the sheriff said.
"It appears to be just a terrible tragedy," Mina said. "We will see moving forward what that results in."
Sampson was taken to a hospital, where he died, sheriff's officials said. No additional details about the teen or the incident were immediately released.
Video recorded by witnesses showing the deadly fall was circulating on social media Friday morning.
A video aired by NBC's "Today" show Friday morning appears to show passengers on the ride discussing issues with a seat restraint Thursday night. The ride then began its trek up the tower before someone is later seen falling from the ride.
"Yes (he was secured in the seat). That's what we know at this time. So again, we operate the ride with all the safety precautions in mind and everything is in place and this is why we're doing an investigation," John Stine, sales director with the Slingshot Group which owns the ride, said, according to CBS Miami.
In a separate statement to The Associated Press, Stine said: "We are absolutely saddened and devastated by what happened, and our hearts go out this young man's family."
The Free Fall ride and an adjacent ride, the Sling Shot, have been closed indefinitely, Stine said. His company operates the two rides at Icon Park.
The 430-foot-tall ride, billed as the world's tallest free-standing drop tower, is just 11 feet shorter than Orlando's tallest building, the SunTrust building.
"We are cooperating with all other investigations at this time to get to the bottom of what happened," Stine said.
Stine said there had been no issues reported previously with the Free Fall ride, which opened over the holidays.
Employees and witnesses who were interviewed by detectives told them that everything appeared to be normal.
"Everything seemed to be OK and normal," Mina said.
Attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard announced Saturday that they will represent the teen's father and mother respectively. According to Crump, Sampson was a "an honor roll student, an aspiring athlete, and a kind-hearted person who cared about others."
"Families have a right to expect these national theme parks, making millions of dollars, will keep their children safe and will put that safety above all else," Hilliard wrote in the statement. "What unimaginable terror did 14-year-old Tyre experience as he slipped out of his unsecured harness and fell helplessly towards his own death?"
The Florida Department of Agriculture, which oversees amusement ride inspections with the exception of the state's largest theme parks, has launched an investigation and inspectors were at the site Friday, spokesperson Caroline Stoneciper said in an email.
The ride holds 30 passengers as it rises in the air, rotates around the tower and then tilts to face the ground before free falling at more than 75 mph (120 kph), the website said.
The ride has over-the shoulder restraint harnesses, with two hand grips at the chest level, that riders pull down and then they are released automatically at the end of the ride.
In 2020, a 21-year-old worker fell to his death at the same theme park while conducting a daily safety check on a different ride.
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