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Nikki Fried promises thorough investigation into Orlando thrill ride following teen's death

An accident report shows the 14-year-old exceeded the ride's weight and size restrictions.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is promising a thorough investigation into an Orlando thrill ride from which a 14-year-old fell to his death.

"No family should have to go through this again," Fried said during a news conference Friday.

And, to facilitate this, an independent forensic engineering firm has been hired to conduct the investigation.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) was tasked with investigating the safety of the Orlando FreeFall following the March 24 accident at ICON Park. On that day, Tyre Sampson was visiting from Missouri with a friend's family when he fell from the ride. He would later die at the hospital from his injuries, according to authorities.  

Fried and FDACS Division of Consumer Services Director Rick Kimsey, joined by State Representative Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando), spoke in Orlando about the investigation, which is still in its early stages.

Fried said Friday a forensic engineer was hired from Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis to assist with the investigation.

She stressed that her department would not be "jumping to conclusions" but would wait for a complete report on the investigation. 

FDACS recently released an accident report outlining what investigators discovered. In it, investigators say Sampson fell out of his seat when the magnets of the ride engaged. The FreeFall ride was reported to be "coming down the tower" at the time of the accident.

"[The] harness was still in a down and locked position when the ride stopped," the report reads.

According to the lawyer representing Sampson's family, the teen stood 6-feet, 5-inches tall, and weighed more than 300 pounds.

In the thrill ride's Operations and Maintenance Manual — to which it must adhere — the "maximum passenger weight" and size restrictions are outlined as being 130kg which equates to roughly 287 pounds. 

Fried said the agriculture department only has the authority to make sure amusement rides adhere to the manufacturers' manuals and is not responsible for setting parameters rides must follow. 

The manual also states to "be careful when seeing if large guests fit into the seats, Check that they fit within the contours of the seat and the bracket fits properly. If this is not so, Do not let this person ride."

The Orlando FreeFall ride opened in December 2021 at ICON Park. According to a news release, the thrill ride stands at 430 feet, "making it the world's tallest free-standing drop tower." 

The park says the ride holds 30 people. The ride rotates around the gigantic tower as it rises to the top. Once riders reach the top, the ride tilts forward 30 degrees and faces the ground for a "brief moment before free falling nearly 400 feet at speeds reaching over 75 mph."

The ride will remain closed as authorities continue to investigate. ICON Park is also "demanding" the SlingShot Group suspend operations of the Orlando FreeFall ride and Orlando SlingShot it operates at its park "effective immediately."

"We continue to grieve the passing of Tyre Sampson and our thoughts are with his family and friends. This was the saddest day in the history of ICON Park and we’re working hard to make sure this never happens again," ICON Park wrote in a recent statement.

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