Father of teen who fell to his death from Florida theme park ride accuses authorities of racism

‘I refuse to let this thing go under the rug because my son didn’t deserve it,’ Yarnell Sampson said at a news conference next to the Free Fall ride in Orlando

Father of boy killed on ICON Orlando ride speaks out

The father of a Missouri teen who fell to his death while riding an Orlando theme park ride earlier this year has accused authorities responsible for investigating the tragic accident of racism, fearing his son’s death is being “swept under the rug”.

“I don’t want to use the race thing,” said Yarnell Sampson on Monday during a press conference held in front of the Free Fall attraction at ICON Park.

“But I believe that because my son is a Black young man he is getting treated like this,” the father of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson said, adding that he believed if his son had been of “European” descent, the investigation would’ve been handled “differently”.

In March, the 14-year-old football player and honour roll student from the St Louis area died from blunt force trauma after he reportedly slipped out of his seat on the 430-ft attraction.

“I refuse to let this thing go under the rug because my son didn’t deserve it,” Mr Sampson said during the news conference, one day after he celebrated his own birthday, which also happened to fall on Father’s Day and Juneteenth, the national holiday marking the end of slavery in the US.

“This is my celebration to be with my son.”

Tyre Sampson, 14, was killed when he fell from The Orlando Free Fall drop tower in ICON Park in Orlando

The ride, known as the Orlando Slingshot, brings passengers to the peak of the tower and then drops riders seemingly barrelling towards the pavement below at 75mph.

An investigation into the young teen’s horrifying death, which was captured on video and shared widely in the weeks following the accident, is still ongoing.

Initial results from the autopsy released last week, however, have shown that Tyre exceeded that ride’s weight limit. It showed that Tyre, who weighed 383lb, was nearly 100lb over the ride manual’s weight limit, which was 287lb.

In a separate probe, conducted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, engineers from outside the company found that sensors on the ride had been adjusted manually to double the size of the opening for restraints on two seats, resulting in the young teen not being properly secured in the seat.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the boy’s father in a lawsuit against the ride’s owner, manufacturer – the Slingshot Group –  and the landlord of ICON Park, said in the lawsuit that the teen was “too big to be on that ride”.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks during a press conference in Florida on 23 April

The civil rights attorney warned on Monday, alongside Mr Sampson during the press conference mere metres away from where the boy fell, that the people responsible for the teenager’s death should, and will, be held accountable.

“These companies cannot be allowed to get away with this, putting profit over safety,” Mr Crump said. “To Slingshot Group, to ICON Park executives, you all cannot simply sweep this under the rug as if Tyre Sampson death doesn’t matter.”

Tyre Sampson, 14, from St Louis, Missouri, fell to his death from an Orlando theme park ride on 24 March

In the lawsuit being brought forward by Mr Sampson and his attorney, they argue that the ride was operated in a negligent and dangerous manner, specifically when the park operators failed to warn the teen of the risks involved with someone of his size going on the ride and didn’t provide appropriate restraints.

For their part, a spokeswoman for Orlando Slingshot said the company would comment later, according to a report filed by the Associated Press.

The company maintains that they are cooperating with investigators, and the Slingshot will remain closed to visitors while the investigation is open.

Mr Sampson, however, would prefer to see that temporary closure become permanent for the Orlando attraction and a memorial for his son be erected in its place.

“This thing has been very emotional,” he said. “The light is justice for Tyre.”

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