Orlando FreeFall: Florida law 'loophole' may have left teen rider in death trap: expert

Tyre Sampson was 360 pounds, exceeding the manual's maximum weight for the ride

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A "loophole" in Florida law may have prevented the operator of the Orlando FreeFall from being required to display a "maximum weight" sign outside the ride, one amusement ride safety expert told Fox News Digital.

Tyre Sampson, 14, died after falling off of the Orlando FreeFall ride at ICON Park in Orlando, Florida, on March 24. An operating manual for the Orlando FreeFall states that the maximum passenger weight is just over 286 pounds. Sampson was 6 feet, 5 inches tall and reportedly weighed 360 pounds.

Brian Avery, a University of Florida lecturer and ride safety expert, told Fox News Digital that a "loophole" in Florida law prevented the operator of the ride from being required to display a weight requirement outside the ride.

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The Orlando Free Fall drop tower in ICON Park in Orlando, Florida, is pictured on March 28, 2022. Tyre Sampson, 14, was killed when he fell from the ride last week.

The Orlando Free Fall drop tower in ICON Park in Orlando, Florida, is pictured on March 28, 2022. Tyre Sampson, 14, was killed when he fell from the ride last week. (Orlando Sentinel via Getty)

He said that Florida law states that "they can only enforce the posting of certain rider requirements and things like the weight, height, health considerations, if the manufacturer requires or recommends it."

The manufacturer's operating manual for the 430-feet Orlando FreeFall states that height and several other limitations for the ride, such as "large people," must be displayed on the ride, but maximum weight is not one of them.

Avery said that this is a "loophole of sorts."

"And at that point, you know, that to me is a loophole of sorts, because if you're going to ask the patron to review your signage, become informed and warned of the potential hazards and make a decision with respect to ride or not based on their circumstances, you have to post that information so that they can make an informed decision as to whether this rider device fits them," Avery said. 

He said that this "loophole" needs to be closed. 

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Tourists enjoy the rides and amenities at ICON Park in Orlando on Thursday, March 24, 2022. 

Tourists enjoy the rides and amenities at ICON Park in Orlando on Thursday, March 24, 2022.  (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

"That's something that has to be closed moving forward," Avery said.

A Florida rule concerning amusement park ride signage states that information such as age, height, and weight restrictions must be "prominently displayed at the entrance of the amusement park ride," but only if "required or recommended by the manufacturer of an amusement ride."

Photos circulating on social media purportedly show the "rider qualifications" sign that is displayed outside the Orlando FreeFall. It lists the minimum height for an individual to enter the ride, but does not mention weight. The SlingShot Group of Companies would not disclose to Fox News Digital whether the ride displayed a weight limit prior to the teen's death.

Sampson's father said in an interview with Orlando 35 that his son could tell something didn't feel right.

"When the ride took off, that's when he was feeling uncomfortable. He was like, ‘This thing is moving.’ … That's when he started freaking out," Yarnell Sampson told FOX 35 Orlando. "He was explaining to his friends next to him … ‘If I don’t make it down … please tell my mom and dad I love them.' For him to say something like that, he must've felt something."

Sampson initially told FOX 35 Orlando in an interview that Tyre weighed 340 pounds, but Michael Haggard, who is representing Nekia Dodd, Tyre's mother, said on Tuesday that he weighed 360 pounds.

Haggard also said on Tuesday that the Orlando FreeFall has a weight restriction that "is not disclosed to anyone," according to ClickOrlando.

"[The owners of Orlando Freefall] have a weight restriction that is not disclosed to anyone. That is truly amazing because when you start talking about going 75 mph, from 430 feet to an almost sudden stop when you’re tilted, the biggest risk we can all think of gravity is weight," Haggard said. "They did nothing to disclose that whatsoever."

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Tyre Sampson

Tyre Sampson (FOX 35 Orlando)

In a news conference on Friday, Nikki Fried, the Florida commissioner of agriculture and consumer services said that her department has hired a forensic engineer with Quest Engineering to assist with the investigation of the Orlando FreeFall incident.

Fried said that potential rule changes could come at the conclusion of the investigation into the incident, if they are warranted.

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Tourists enjoy the rides and amenities at ICON Park in Orlando on Thursday, March 24, 2022. 

Tourists enjoy the rides and amenities at ICON Park in Orlando on Thursday, March 24, 2022.  (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

In a statement to Fox News Digital, Trevor Arnold, an attorney representing the operator of the Orlando FreeFall, said that it is working with state departments in their investigations.

"Orlando Eagle Drop continues to cooperate at every level with all state agencies and departments conducting their respective investigations. Friday’s pledge by Florida lawmakers to effectuate change in our industry is welcome. We are committed to working with those in charge to make a difference, as the safety of the public remains Orlando Eagle Drop’s top priority. On Monday, April 4th, we will have staff from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on site. We will continue to provide additional information, as it is appropriate, given our respect for the ongoing investigations," Arnold said.