Tire Sampson, who died in fall from thrill ride in Orlando, may have been too heavy for the ride, operations manual shows

Tire Sampson, who died in fall from thrill ride in Orlando, may have been too heavy for the ride, operations manual shows

The teenager who died in a fall from an Orlando thrill ride Thursday night may have been too heavy for the ride, a 2021 manual from the manufacturer appears to indicate.

Tire Sampson, 14, who was 6 feet, 5 inches tall and over 300 pounds, plummeted from his seat on the Orlando Free Fall ridewhich is located at Icon Park along a busy street in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district.

Sampson was a middle school football player in the St. Louis area who dreamed of playing pro ball. His youth football coach, AJ Jones, told WKMG-TV that Sampson weighed 320 pounds at the time of his death.

An operations and maintenance manual seen by CBS News and prepared by the ride’s manufacturer, Funtime Handels GmbH, of Dölsach, Austria, says the maximum weight for passengers should be 130 kilograms, or 286 pounds.

Free Fall Death
A makeshift memorial for Tire Sampson is viewed outside the Orlando Free Fall ride at the ICON Park entertainment complex, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. Sampson fell to his death while on the ride.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP


The manual also states: “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.”

An accident report filed after the incident says Sampson “came out of his seat” as the ride began to brake, but says the “harness was still in a down and locked position when the ride stopped,” CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez reports.

The 430-foot-tall ride, billed as the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower, is just 11 feet shorter than Orlando’s tallest building, the SunTrust building. It takes patrons up to that height, tilts the seats so they face the ground for a moment or two, and then plummets toward the ground at speeds of 75 mph or more.

The incident is being investigated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

“We hope the subsequent findings will be able to inform us all as to how this tragedy occurred and will precipitate any changes necessary to better protect patrons of amusement rides in Florida,” FDACS Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement.

Lawyers for Sampson’s family want to know if negligence about his size, or other factors, played a role.

“This young man, he was athletic and he was big. He had no way of knowing,” said Bob Hilliard, a Texas attorney who represents Tyre’s mother, Nekia Dodd, in an interview Saturday. “This is going to be an issue of a lack of supervision and lack of training. A straight-up negligence case.”

CBS News has reached out to Funtime Handels GmbH, Icon Park and the SlingShot Group, which operates the ride, for their responses.

Icon Park said in an earlier statement that it is fully cooperating with investigators and that the Orlando FreeFall ride will be closed indefinitely.

SlingShot Group said last week, “We are heartbroken with the incident that took the life of one of our guests. We extend our condolences and deepest sympathy to his family and friends.”

–The Associated Press contributed to this report

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