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Under Rep. Thompson's proposed Tyre Sampson bill, state must consider operator's safety record when approving new rides

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando. Image: Florida Channel
State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando. Image: Florida Channel

The father of a 14-year-old boy who died in March after falling 200 feet from the Free Fall ride at Orlando's ICON Park is upset that his son’s memorial has been removed.

Yarnell Sampson wrote his son's name and the words "Death Trap" on a fence outside the shuttered ride. He wants it closed permanently.

Then, at a press conference on the site, Sampson insisted he won't let his son's death be forgotten and that if Tyre had been white -- and not a Black teen on vacation from Missouri -- the memorial would remain.

An attorney for the ride operator - the SlingShot Group -- said in a prepared statement that it's working with the family to return the memorial items.

Sampson says that over the weekend he asked people at Icon Park if they knew about his son.

"Out of a hundred people there were only five people actually knew he died off this ride," he said. "You know what they thought? They thought the ride was discontinued due to maintenance. They thought they were actually fixing the ride. I heard a couple of kids say, 'Oh, I can't wait to get on this ride.'"

The family has filed suit against the operator and others. Investigations found that Tyre was 87 pounds over the weight limit and slid through the harness as the ride slowed on the way down.

An engineer's report for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services blames a re-adjusted safety sensor that allowed a 7- to 10-inch gap between the harness and seat.

Also at the press conference, State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said she will file the Tyre Sampson bill requiring regulators to take into account the safety record of companies that want to open new amusement rides.

She said that's "because the life of the people who get on these rides -- that's what’s at stake here."

Thompson says her bill will also require rides to post signage with height or weight limits.

The SlingShot Group's other ride at ICON Park, the Orlando Slingshot, also closed after the Free Fall death. The attorney says the Orlando Slingshot will reopen once it has the requisite state approvals.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.