Ride operators for the Orlando-based Free Fall ride adjusted safety measures to 14-year-old Tyree Sampson’s seat before his death, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said on Monday.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis investigated the incident and concluded that the modified changes caused some harnesses on the ride to open to “almost double” the normal range, Fried said.
As News Onyx previously reported, Sampson, who weighed 340 pounds, died on the ride at ICON amusement park last month.
“These misadjustments allowed the safety lights to illuminate and properly satisfy the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms that allowed the ride to operate, even though Mr. Sampson was not properly secured in the seat,” Fried said.
Trevor Arnold, the attorney representing SlingShot Group, said the operators followed all of the “protocols, procedures and safety measures.”
“Today’s report suggests a full review of the ride’s design, safety, operation, restraint mechanisms and history – which of course, we welcome,” Arnold said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to implement change in the industry, as the safety of our patrons is always our top priority.”
The report stated that engineers recalled the ride operating correctly, with no evidence of “physical or mechanical failure.”
However, the report found that two of the seats, one of which was occupied by Sampson, were modified to open between three and four inches wider than the ride’s other restraints.
Shortly before his death, Sampson’s restraints created a seven-inch gap between the harness and the raised part of the seat between his legs.
“During slowing of the ride, Tyre Sampson slipped through the gap between the seat and harness,” the report read. “… The cause of the subject accident was that Tyre Sampson was not properly secured in the seat primarily due to the misadjustment of the harness proximity sensor.”
The report said “many other potential contributions” could have factored into the accident, and its authors recommended a full review of the ride’s “design, safety, operation, restraint mechanisms and history.”
Michael Haggard, an attorney representing Sampson’s family, said the investigative firm they hired to conduct an independent investigation reached the same findings.
“[But] it’s another thing to hear from the Commissioner of Agriculture of the State of Florida that they have found that a company manipulated and changed a seat in a ride like this,” he said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s astonishing.”
The teen’s family plans to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks. Fried said the ride would remain close indefinitely.
State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, appeared at the press conference alongside Fried and said the state’s investigation is ongoing while determining when the ride’s safety features were made and who authorized them.
“I don’t believe that the department would issue a permit if these adjustments were made before the inspection and they realized that it did not conform with the manufacturer’s guidelines,” she said. “… We want to make sure that first of all, the manufacturer has an opportunity to provide evidence, and the operator has an opportunity to provide evidence.”
During the press conference, Fried said the state would look into making changes to Florida’s ride regulation laws after the investigation is completed.
She said she plans to write the “Tyre Sampson Bill,” a law that would include stricter rules for ride modifications, training, and safety signage.
“What I want to do is to strengthen the requirement that if there is any adjustment [to a ride], that would trigger another inspection,” she said. “This is not a one-time kind of situation, and these adjustments were made that led to the unfortunate incident and the death of Tyre Sampson.”