ORLANDO, Fla — Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried announced Tuesday her office issued an administrative complaint and is seeking a fine exceeding $250,000 after a teen fell to his death from a free-fall ride in March.
During a news conference, Fried was joined by state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windemere, to speak of the steps being taken in the wake of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson's death in Orlando.
Sampson, who was visiting Florida from Missouri, fell from the FreeFall drop tower – which sparked an investigation into the faults of the ride.
“With the magnitude of this incident, it was important to me that the department take the necessary time to conduct a thorough investigation and get this right which I believe we have done to the best of our ability,” Fried said.
The commissioner explained the department’s investigation concluded that the teen fell from the drop tower because of changes made on the ride by its operators. He was reportedly sitting in one of two seats where the proximity sensor was manually repositioned to allow a larger restraint opening than the ride's other seats.
"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 explained.
The department’s investigation also revealed there was minimal training conducted on the ride, she said. A training manual allegedly didn’t exist. The ride workers and the operator also never read or saw a manual and were told that the first and second seats were being used for "larger guests," according to the commissioner.
In light of these findings, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued an administrative complaint alleging multiple violations of Florida law related to them.
The office is also seeking a fine exceeding $250,000 – which is reportedly one of the largest the department has ever sought, along with a permanent revocation of the ride’s operating permit in Florida.
Fried said all the findings will be sent over to the Orange County Sheriff's Office for consideration of criminal charges.
She explained the goal is to identify the issues they believe played a direct part in the teen’s death, along with other objectives, including:
- Expand the signage posting requirements for patron qualifications
- Want to see an increased number of safety system checks during the permitting process before engineers sign off them
- Update the term “major modifications” to include any modifications of safety settings
- Want to add department authority to adopt rules for employee training and create a minimal standard for operating, training, retaining and training program documentation
- Clarify department authority and increase reporting requirements for the documentation of maintenance and the required reporting of any changes made to safety systems and restraints
- Add authority to require all administrative devices to undergo wide commissioning and certification as part of the permitting requirements
- Add a requirement that the operator must provide the department with location and other data for the manufacturer of all tolerance, settings and specifications related to the patron restraints and safety systems
- Increased the required accident reporting for amusement rides
- Request new positions with the sole mission of inspecting permanent ride facilities and traveling show and fairs to monitor safe operations and verify training of on-site staff during the operation
Thompson also announced during the news conference that she will be filing the "Tyre Sampson Law," which is going to address all the findings of how the teen fell to his death.
"I am committed to filing this legislation and it is not a partisan issue, that's something I really want to stress," the senator said. "It is a safety issue."
She said she hopes the law prevents a similar incident from happening to anyone in the future.
Watch the full news conference down below.
Sampson fell from the Orlando FreeFall ride on March 24. He would later die at the hospital from his injuries.
An autopsy report revealed in June that the teen died of blunt force trauma from the fall.
The Orlando FreeFall ride opened in December 2021. According to a news release, it stands at 430 feet, "making it the world's tallest free-standing drop tower."