The owners of the Orlando Freefall Ride announce that the attraction will be demolished following public outcry and pressure from Tire Sampson’s family

A Florida amusement park has announced it will be demolishing one of its newest rides after a St. Louis teenager tragically slipped out in March 2022. The tourist destination manager turned the site into a memorial for the boy.

On Thursday, October 6, Orlando Slingshot CEO Ritchie Armstrong issued a statement sharing his company’s decision to cancel the Orlando FreeFall ride out of respect for Tire Sampson, a 14-year-old boy who fell on him ICON Park announced his death on March 24, 2022 after slipping out of the ride’s seat belt, reports WAGA-TV FOX5.

Two months after his death, the boy’s parents and their supporters petitioned to convert the site into a memorial. The petition was signed by thousands of people who wanted to erect a memorial in this place, hoping to sanctify the ground where the teenager lost his life. While plans for a memorial are undecided, talks of demolishing the ride are ongoing.

“We are devastated by Tire’s death. We listened to the wishes of Tire’s family and the community and made the decision to dismantle the FreeFall,” Armstrong said in a statement. “Additionally, Orlando will honor Slingshot Tire and its legacy in the classroom and on the football field by creating a scholarship in his name.”

ICON Park, the destination that hosted the ride, welcomed the move and said in a statement: “Tyre’s death is a tragedy we will never forget. As a lessor, ICON Park welcomes and appreciates Orlando Slingshot’s decision to end the ride.”

It has not yet been determined when demolition will begin. Orlando SlingShot said it is waiting for all parties related to the accident and state regulators to give them final approval. Since the accident is also still under investigation and a lawsuit from the family is pending next year, a clear date for the demolition of the ride is in the stars.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Shelby Scarpa, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, said Orlando Slingshot will not be able to complete the drive until her agency completes its investigation.

Scarpa said her agency is in touch with Orlando SlingShot and will work together to resolve this complicated case.

The 430-foot ride, which taller than the Statue of Liberty and was advertised as the world’s tallest drop tower, has been closed since the accident.

One driver allowed Sampson to get on the ride despite being nearly 100 pounds over the ride’s weight limit. The person manually adjusted the seat and restraint opening to double the prescribed standard, as described in the ride’s instruction manual. As a result, the eighth grader slipped through the ride and fell prematurely to his death.

Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried conducted an investigation and uncovered the breach of operating protocol, but also found that the drive itself did not involve a mechanical or electrical malfunction and that other factors played a role in Sampson’s death contributed.

Sampson’s mother was reportedly too emotional to speak to the press after the announcement. However, Nekia Dodd’s attorney, Michael Haggard, spoke on her behalf.

“With the tremendous grief she endures every day, there is a degree of closure in knowing that this will never happen again with another child and that her son’s legacy will be,” the attorney said, according to WESH.

Haggard also said: “[Knowing] it will never work again, is a bit of comfort to her in the midst of her grief.”

Sampson’s father, Yarnell Sampson, and his attorney, Ben Crump, say their efforts to persuade the owners to demolish it were not in vain.

Crump and his co-counsel Bob Hilliard said in a statement: “[Sampson] has been committed to this since the day Tire fell to his death.”

“The Orlando Free Fall ride should never have operated in these faulty conditions,” the statement continued. “Theme parks, their parent companies and regulators need to do a better job of ensuring that this type of tragedy doesn’t happen to any other family.”

“How would you feel? You’re sending your kid on vacation; they’re going to have fun. They’re not coming home next,” Yarnell said. “This is a reminder. It has to come down. It needs a permanent monument.”

A physical memorial hasn’t been announced, but a local politician wants to make sure she commemorates the scholar-athlete with laws designed to prevent future accidents in the tourist-centric state.

Rep. Geraldine Thompson said: “It was unusual that the signs were not posted regarding the height and weight requirements to allow Tire to make their own decision. His life was taken during spring break because of the extraordinary things that happened here, but we’re going to fix that with the Tire-Sampson bill that’s going to be tabled on the very first day of the legislature, and I’ll be the author of the Tire-Sampson bill be law.” The owners of the Orlando Freefall Ride announce that the attraction will be demolished following public outcry and pressure from Tire Sampson’s family

James Brien

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