Florida officials are demanding a $250,000 fine for the Orlando amusement ride operator after a 14-year-old died


Family members and friends of Tire Sampson leave flowers and other items at a vigil in front of the Orlando Free Fall drop tower at ICON Park in Orlando, Florida, on Monday, March 28, 2022. Sampson, 14, was killed when he got off the ride last week. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. (UKTN) — Florida officials are seeking more than $250,000 in fines from the operator of a drop-tower theme park attraction whose 14-year-old Tire Sampson fell to his death in March, they announced Tuesday.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried has filed an administrative complaint against Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot LLC.

News of the complaint comes about eight months after Tire died in a fall from the 130-foot amusement park ride while visiting ICON Park outside of Orlando during his spring break. The ride, which would take riders aloft before dropping nearly 400 feet at speeds in excess of 75 mph, was closed afterwards and last month the operator said it would be torn down.

Company representatives and lawyers for Tire’s family did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

The complaint cites an initial report from a forensic engineering firm commissioned by Florida officials to investigate the incident in which Tire fell off the ride because it was not properly secured. That was mainly because a seat sensor had been modified to allow the ride to operate with a larger-than-normal gap between his harness and his seat, the report found.

The seat sensors would normally not allow the ride to function unless they indicate that each seat’s harness is lowered to a point where it should secure a rider – but the adjustment of the sensor in Tire’s seat, as well as a similar adjustment on a second seat, allowed the ride to operate with a larger-than-normal gap between harness and seat, the report from Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis Inc. reads.

“The ride was allowed to start, even though the ride was unsafe and led directly to his fall,” said Fried on Tuesday.

The department’s investigation also found that there was “minimal on-the-ride training,” Fried said, and that none of the clerks or operators had read the manufacturer’s manual. In addition, attendants and the operator confirmed that they had been told to use the two seats that had the sensors adjusted for “larger guests.”

The ride’s operation and maintenance manual, previously posted online by government officials, indicated that the maximum passenger weight should be 130 kilograms, or about 287 pounds. Tire, just over six feet tall, weighed 383 pounds, according to his autopsy, which showed the cause of death was bone trauma and the manner of death was accidental.

In addition to the fine, the department is seeking a “permanent operating license revocation” in the state, Fried said, adding that the findings of her staff’s investigation would be forwarded to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to consider criminal charges.

Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot LLC has 21 days to request a hearing if it wants to challenge any of the allegations made by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is responsible for inspecting amusement rides.

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