State department fines Orlando FreeFall attraction company $250K after death of Tyre Sampson
A Florida department announced Tuesday it's seeking a $250,000 fine against a ride operator after its investigation of the death of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson, who fell from the Orlando FreeFall ride in March.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is issuing an administrative complaint indicating multiple state violations made by the Sling Shot Group ride operators leading to Tyre Sampson’s fall at ICON Park. The fine is one of the largest administrative penalties the department has ever sought, said Commissioner Niki Fried during a press conference.
"The department's investigation has concluded that Tyre fell from the drop tower due to changes made by the ride operators," she said. "He was 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, and because his seat's harness proximity sensor had been improperly adjusted the ride was allowed to commence even though it was unsafe and led directly to his fall."
In addition to financial penalties, Fried announced the department's investigative findings and proposed several legislative changes to attractions in the state.
After Fried's press conference, attorney Ben Crump, who represents Yarnell Sampson in a lawsuit over Tyre's death, released a statement expressing the Department of Agriculture was making a significant step toward accountability.
“This week, Tyre’s family will experience their first holiday season without him. His family will always have an empty seat at the table – that anguish deserves accountability in the highest sense from the entities responsible for this tragedy,” Crump said.
Additionally, the attorney representing the Orlando Slingshot, Trevor Arnold, responded to WMFE and stated the company supports Fried's proposed legislative changes.
“We share their goal to prevent a tragic accident, like that involving Tyre, from ever happening again," Arnold said. "We are and have been working closely with FDACS and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in their respective investigations. We have cooperated with the authorities from the moment the accident occurred, and will continue to do so with full transparency."
Since Tyre's death, the Orlando Slingshot suspended two employees after the findings of an internal investigation. The company also brought outside firms into its fold to improve training and safety practices, Arnold said.
"We took these steps to ensure continued operations conform to applicable standards and recommendations," he said.
The department's findings
The department's investigation also revealed the company conducted minimal training on the ride.
"A training manual did not exist. Neither of the attendants nor the operator had read or seen the manufacturer manual, nor had operating documents been provided to the attendants or the operators that were on duty,” she said.
As a result, the department is also seeking the revocation of the ride’s operating permit in the state and will be forwarding all of its findings to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to consider criminal charges.
Avoiding future tragedy
Commissioner Fried said in addition to its investigation the department committed itself to seeking legislative change to state attractions.
“We've expanded and refined that framework into a list of promised proposed legislative objectives to help prevent the kind of tragedy that happened to Tyre from never happening again. Our goal here is to identify the issues that we believe played a direct part in his death,” she said.
During the press conference, Fried proposed nine changes to ensure safer attractions:
- Expanding signage posting requirements for patron qualifications.
- Increasing the number of safety system checks during the permitting process.
- Updating the term "major modifications" to include any modifications of safety settings.
- Adding department authority to adopt rules for employee training and creating a minimal standard for operating, training, retaining, and training program documentation.
- Increasing reporting requirements for the documentation of maintenance.
- Requiring all administrative devices to undergo wide commissioning and certification as part of permitting requirements.
- Adding a requirement that the operator must provide the department with location and other data for the manufacture of all tolerance settings and specifications related to the patron restraints and safety systems.
- Increasing the required accident reporting for amusement rides.
- Requesting new positions with the sole mission of inspecting permanent ride facilities, traveling shows, and fairs to monitor safety and verify training of on-site staff during operations.