TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Florida Department of Agriculture has hired forensic engineering and analysis firm Quest Engineering to aid in its investigation of a Missouri teen’s death on a drop tower ride in Florida, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Friday.
Tyre Sampson, 14, fell to his death last Thursday from the FreeFall drop tower ride at Orlando’s ICON Park. The ride stands at 430 feet and bills itself as the “world’s tallest freestanding drop tower.”
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates amusement park rides in Florida, is investigating the teen’s death and sent inspectors to the attraction last week.
Fried provided an update on the investigation and discussed the amusement ride regulatory program at a press conference Friday.
Fried said the state has since hired Quest Engineering, a forensic engineering and analysis firm, to aid in its investigation. Fried said the firm previously worked with the department after the Sand Blaster coaster on the Daytona Beach Boardwalk derailed in June 2018. The ride was later shut down. Once the investigation into the FreeFall ride is complete, Fried’s department may decide to issue penalties against the ride’s owner or shut down the ride if it’s found to be too dangerous.
“We will then immediately make changes to our rules if needed, onto our existing authorities, as well as pursue statutory changes with our legislative partners if necessary,” Fried said. “We’ll be seeing if there is things that can be changed inside the of department or things that may need to be done by the legislature.”
FDACS Division of Consumer Services Director Rick Kimsey said the state oversees training and conducts safety inspections at time of permitting, and six-month follow-up inspection after the permit date.
“We follow requirements by the manufacturer, and take suggestions from the manufacturer on the number of hours that they require someone to be trained to safely operate a ride,” he added.
According to Fried, state inspectors have limited authority when it comes to ride safety review.
State inspectors assess whether the ride is performing according to the manufacturer’s manual.
That inspection was completed before the Free Fall ride opened in December.
“At which time, no deficiencies were found,” said commissioner Fried.
The state does not have the authority to question safety protocols, unless a consumer files a complaint.
“Just to clarify, are you saying there is no state or federal agency that oversees what these manufacturers put in their manuals?” asked News Channel 8 reporter Staci DaSilva.
“That is correct,” replied commissioner Fried.
“If there is legislative action that is needed to give more authority to the FDACS, that’s what we will be focused on,” Florida House Representative Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) added. “A lot of that authority is given to the vendor, the company that operates the ride.”
The Orlando Free Fall attraction was manufactured by the Austrian company, Funtime.
Manufacturers must include an affidavit from an engineer, signing off on the ride’s safety, according to Fried.
Rep. Thompson vowed to file the “Tyre Sampson Bill” once findings from the state’s investigation are made public.
“It may be that the investigation will point out that not only the harness but an additional safeguard, which would have been a seat belt, would have saved Tyre’s life,” said Rep. Thompson.
Sampson’s family said Tyre weighed over 300 pounds and questioned whether the teen should have been on the ride to begin with. The ride’s operations manual says that 286.6 pounds is the maximum weight for each rider, according to the accident report from the state.
“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 manual states.
The accident report said the harness on Sampson’s seat was still locked after the ride came to a stop.
“FreeFall was coming to [sic] down the tower. When the magnets engaged, the patron came out of the seat,” an employee wrote in the report.
No deficiencies were noted at the initial permit inspection, the FDACS said.
The Slingshot Group, which leases space from ICON Park and owns the FreeFall and the Slingshot, another ride there, told NBC News both rides were closed.
ICON Park on Monday “formally notified the owner of the Orlando FreeFall, the SlingShot Group, demanding suspension not only of the operation of Orlando FreeFall but also the operation of Orlando SlingShot, effective immediately, until the attractions are proven to be safe by authorities,” ICON said in a statement.