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The father of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson, who died in March from falling from the Orlando FreeFall attraction, called for the ride to be permanently closed and take down at a press conference Monday.
During a press conference at ICON Park organized by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, the boy’s father, Yarnell Sampson, described the ride as a “death trap” and claimed race played a factor in executives allegedly attempting to sweep the incident under the rug in removing the memorial at the attraction.
“That’s why I got on the wall ‘Death Trap,’” Sampson said, referring to the wall behind him. “Because you get on that ride again, and someone else is gonna die. It may not be today, it could be tomorrow, it could be a year from now but I guarantee if you open that ride again someone else is gonna die.”
“That’s the goal to get it discontinued for good,” he said.
ORLANDO FREEFALL AUTOPSY SAYS TEEN DIED OF BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA, WEIGHED NEARLY 100 POUNDS OVER RIDE LIMIT
Sampson called for a public apology and said their goal is to get between 25,000 and 30,000 signatures in a petition to have the ride replaced with a statue and a permanent memorial.
He and other speakers lamented that the ride operator, The Slingshot Group, was granted a new lease from the theme park to put up a second ride while the Orlando FreeFall death investigation continues.
“I feel like it’s a cover-up sham going on. I feel like personally that they don’t want the world to know the truth because – I hate to say this, I don’t want to use the race thing – but I believe because my son is a Black young man, that he is being treated like this. And I believe if it was a European child, it would have been something different,” the elder Sampson said. “There wouldn’t be no sweeping under the rug, they would have been more cooperative. I think there would have been more respect for it as well.”
“He deserves to be respected more than they’re giving him,” he said of his son.
The father addressed the media a week after the results of the autopsy for 14-year-old Sampson were released showing he died of blunt force trauma and the manner of death was ruled an accident. The medical examiner also noted the child was obese, weighing 383 pounds at the time of death.
That is nearly 100 pounds over the ride’s weight limit.
“Tyre was too big to have been on the ride,” Crump said Monday. “The weight limit was 286 pounds, but they did not follow their own restrictions.”
An initial report by outside engineers hired by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said sensors on the ride had been adjusted manually to double the size of the opening for restraints on two seats, resulting in Sampson not being properly secured.
“These companies cannot be allowed to get away with this putting profit over safety,” Crump said. “To Slingshot Group, to ICON Park executives, you all cannot simply sweep this under the rug as if Tyre Sampson’s death doesn’t matter. Because Tyre Sampson matters, his life matters, his legacy matters.”
So far, it has not been revealed who made those manual adjustments.
But Democratic state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who also spoke at the press conference, suggested that it was someone “further up in terms of the chain of the command,” and not an entry-level teen worker manning the ride, to have authorized the change.
The elder Sampson also called for drug tests for ride operators who are routinely younger workers.
“They need to drug test some of these operators,” he said. “These little young teenage operators been going to 30 days of training, how are they responsible for someone’s life? It’s really crazy to me.”
Thompson accused The Slingshot Group of being “tone-deaf” for both removing the memorial placed at the foot of the Orlando FreeFall attraction and for obtaining a second lease. She said she is working on the Tyre Sampson bill, to be introduced at the start of the next legislative session, that will require a ride operator’s experience and safety history be considered in applications for leases for a new ride.
Thompson said her goal to have The Slingshot Group’s new lease taken away.
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“Behind you, there used to be a memorial that people in the community made and put together. This particular operator has removed everything, all of the evidence, that this is the location where a 14-year-old boy died,” Thompson said. “They don’t want people to know that.”
Thompson said she is not convinced proper signage was posted for the ride’s weight and height limits.