TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D) filed legislation to change how the Florida Dept. of Agriculture regulates theme park rides, in response to the March 2022 death of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson at ICON Park.
Sampson died while riding ICON Park’s FreeFall ride in Orlando. The teenager, a high school football player, fell more than 70 feet, after a safety harness was “improperly adjusted,” according to state officials at the time. Specifically, an investigation of the ride found that a proximity sensor in Sampson’s seat had been repositioned, manually, allowing it be opened further than normal.
This opening of the safety restraint contributed to his fall, and subsequent death.
Autopsy results of Sampson showed that the teen had suffered serious internal injuries, as well as injuries to his head, neck and torso, according to reporting by WESH.
The FreeFall ride’s weight limit was 287 pounds for a rider, but autopsy details show Sampson weighed 383 pounds. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the state agency which regulates theme parks in Florida, pushed for reforms to safety rules after.
Since Sampson’s death, multiple lawsuits over the death have been underway, even though it was ruled an accident. Despite the ruling, state officials and lawmakers have pushed for reforms.
“When accidents occur, often it’s because many small issues happen at the same time to create a perfect storm. Our goal here was to identify the issues that caused that perfect storm in Tyre’s case and work to prevent them from occurring again,” Democrat Nikki Fried, the then-Agriculture Commissioner, said. “This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue – this is a safety issue, and as leaders we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to ensure that these rides are safe for the people of Florida.”
To make reforms, Fried and then-Sen. Randolph Bracy, (D-Orange County), and then-Rep.-now-Sen. Geraldine Thompson, (D-Orange County) released a plan in July, along with companion legislation.
The legislative proposal, called the “Tyre Sampson bill”, introduced steps to prevent future lethal incidents. However, the bill was not adopted in the 2022 legislative session. Thompson reintroduced the legislation for the March session.
The proposal, Senate Bill 902, suggests a number of changes for Florida’s theme parks and rides, including, among others:
- Require independent labs to test rides after modifications or changes
- Require certified safety report by ride manufacturers and/or nationally recognized testing lab
- Require rides operated to have certified reports on file with FDACS before receiving a permit for operation
- Creates exemption to some safety rules for temporary rides, if certified six months before use
- FDACS can make unannounced safety inspections of rides
In a separate bill, also filed by Thompson, changes to state records for FDACS ride investigations were proposed, to take effect contingent on SB 902.
ICON Park’s FreeFall ride is closed, with plans to dismantle the ride itself currently on hold, pending the death investigation’s conclusion. In the meantime, the ride’s manufacturer, Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot, LLC, was fined $250,000 for the death in November, though they are contesting it in court.