A teen's death spurs legislation to boost safety on Florida amusement rides
It’s been almost one year since 14-year-old Tyre Sampson fell to his death from an amusement ride in Orlando. The FreeFall ride in Orlando’s busy tourist district was shut down the day after the accident and is being taken apart starting this week.
The teen’s death has spurred legislation designed to improve rider safety.
The Tyre Sampson Act (SB 902) takes a series of steps to protect riders. The middle schooler fell from a ride that had been granted a permit to operate just two months earlier.
“In between January and March, there were major modifications with regard to the sensors and the seats that did not comply with the manufacturer's guidelines,” Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said in a Zoom call Monday with reporters.
Her bill creates a duty to report any major ride modifications to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and it includes establishing rules for worker training, "so that incidences such as that occurred with FreeFall would not happen where you have 17- and 18-year-old young people operating the rides with minimal training," Thompson said.
Sampson was from St. Louis, Missouri. He was on spring break with family friends when he stepped onto the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride. He was 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed more than 380 pounds according to the autopsy. That was about a hundred pounds over the ride’s weight limit.
An inspection found that a sensor in Sampson’s seat had been manually repositioned, allowing a larger opening for his restraint.
Under Thompson’s bill, a ride’s height and weight requirements must be clearly visible, and seats belts would be required for any ride taller than 100 feet.
“As we all know in this case, the actual ride operator manipulated the seats to manipulate the sensor," Attorney Michael Haggard told the Senate Agriculture Committee. He represents Nekia Dodd, Sampson’s mother. "As much as we have put in and built in inspections and protocols, if that happens again, the only thing that would save any of our children or any of us is to have a secondary restraint above 100 feet - to have both a seatbelt and a harness.”
The bill unanimously passed the committee. It allows unannounced inspections by the state, but it does not affect large theme parks like Disney that have their own inspectors.
In a separate bill filed by Thompson (SB 904), public records related to such accidents would remain private until the state is finished investigating.
The operator of the FreeFall ride paid a $250,000 fine to the state following Sampson’s death. Now that all investigations are complete, the tower is expected to take weeks to dismantle.
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