Ride operator adjusted safety alerts on Tyre Sampson’s seat, report finds 

A Florida official explained the findings of an engineering firm hired to investigate the teen's death at an amusement park.

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The Florida Commission of Agriculture and Consumer Services is continuing its investigation into the death of Tyre Sampson, who was killed after falling from an amusement park ride last month. 

According to the Orlando Sentinel, an outside engineering firm was hired by the state and found that the operator of the Orlando Free Fall drop tower manually changed the sensor on specific seats on the ride “resulting in it being unsafe.” 

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried explained the report by Quest Engineering & Failure during a press conference on Monday. Fried noted that the changes allowed harnesses on certain seats to open to “almost double” the normal range. 

The report found that Tyre Sampson’s restraint created a gap of up to 10 inches between the harness and the raised part of the seat between his legs.

“These mis-adjustments 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.

Sampson, who was 14, weighed nearly 340 pounds. 

An attorney for the SlingShot Group, the ride’s operator, said that they followed all of the “protocols, procedures, and safety measures,” provided by the manufacturer. 

“Today’s report suggests a full review of the ride’s design, safety, operation, restraint mechanisms and history – which of course we welcome,” attorney Trevor 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.”

Fried said that there was no other evidence of “physical or mechanical failure,” only that the restraints on two seats, including one occupied by Sampson, were modified to open three to four inches wider than the others. 

Sampson’s restraint created a gap of up to 10 inches 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 reads. “… The cause of the subject accident was that Tyre Sampson was not properly secured in the seat primarily due to the mis-adjustment of the harness proximity sensor.”

It added, “many other potential contributions” could have factored into the accident. The engineering firm recommended a full review of the ride’s “design, safety, operation, restraint mechanisms and history.”

The family hired an engineering team, which also found that there were modifications made on the ride. “[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,” Michael Haggard, an attorney for Sampson’s family, said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s astonishing.”

The family plans to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks. The ride remains closed indefinitely. 

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando is moving forward with a bill named after Sampson 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.”

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