Parents File Wrongful Death Suit Against Florida Thrill Ride Operator and Manufacturer Following Death of Teen

Mar 10, 2023

By Michael S. Carroll, PhD

The parents of a 14-year-old teen from Missouri have filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against a thrill ride operator and manufacturer in Florida following the death of their son, who fell to his death while riding the Orlando Free Fall, billed as the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower, at a height of 430 feet. 


In March of 2022, Tyre Sampson, who was visiting Orlando from Missouri with friends, rode the Orlando Free Fall attraction, a thrill ride in which riders sit in a seat and are raised hundred of feet into the air. At the top of the ride, it tilts forward 30 degrees and free falls several hundred feet at speeds exceeding 75 miles per hour, coming to a slow stop. The ride contains a harness that goes over riders’ shoulders in order to secure them during the ride, but it does not attach between the legs like other harnesses on such amusement rides. Sampson, an avid football player, stood at approximately 6’2 and weighed approximately 380 pounds. The ride listed no height or weight restrictions at the ticket counter, and no employees advised Sampson as to any such restrictions. However, the owner’s manual for the tower lists the ride’s weight limit at 287 pounds, close to 100 pounds less that Sampson. Icon Park manages two other thrill rides adjacent to the Free Fall, a rotating swing that goes high into the air and a slingshot that propels a 2-rider cage from the ground into the air at a high rate of speed. Sampson had attempted to go on each of those attractions but was told that he was too large. He then went to the Free Fall Ride and was allowed on. During the drop phase of the ride, Sampson was ejected from his seat, falling at least 100 feet to his death. The incident was captured via surveillance video and cell phone images. Following the incident, Icon Park and its owners, Slingshot Group, shut down the ride for investigation.

Incident Report

Following the incident, the Florida Department of Agriculture commissioned an Accident Field Investigation Report that utilized an engineering firm to examine the ride. The report found no evidence of any physical or mechanical failure on the ride or of any malfunction. The ride utilized a safety harness to hold riders in place. This harness sits on the rider’s shoulders down onto their lap and torso and attaches to the seat, but it does not pass between a rider’s legs. There is a raised portion of the front of the seat referred to as the “horn.” In order to exit the seat, a rider would need to slide over this horn and out the bottom of the front of the seat. Each seat included a proximity sensor that illuminated two safety lights when a rider was properly strapped in via the safety harness, and the ride would not function until such lights were lit. The harness could be raised or lowered to accommodate different body types and still allow the ride to function. The gap between the harness and seat horn was referenced as the “restraint opening.” The ride included a total of 30 seats. Measurements were taken for all 30 seats, examining the maximum restraint opening that still allowed the ride to function, with the safety lights illuminated. Of the 30 seats, one had been decommissioned and two allowed much larger openings than the others. The report noted that the average restraint opening of the remaining 27 seats was 3.33 inches, with a total range of 2.65 to 4.28 inches. The restraint opening for the other two seats measured 7.19 inches and 6.51 inches respectively. The seat measuring 7.19 inches was the seat in which Sampson was sitting when he slid out to his death.

Inspections of the seats revealed that the proximity sensors had been adjusted for the two abnormal seats after they were in place, allowing a larger gap than normal. The report noted that at the time of the incident, Sampson’s seat allowed a restraint opening between 6 and 7 inches at the start of the ride, but that the gap expanded to as many as 10 inches when the free fall and subsequent deceleration occurred. The report concluded that the cause of the accident was that Sampson was not properly secured in his seat, primarily due to mis-adjustment of the seat harness proximity sensor, which allowed the safety lights illuminate, thereby bypassing the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms and allowing the ride to commence despite the unsafe nature of the situation.


Sampson’s parents filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against Icon Park and associated entitles in April of 2022 in the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit in Orange County, Florida, alleging seven total counts, including negligence and strict liability against the various defendants. At its core, the suit alleges that Icon Park, who owned and managed the ride, owed a duty to its customers to exercise reasonable care in operating, managing, maintaining, designing inspecting, constructing, testing, fixing, and/or controlling the amusement park rides on its premises, including the Free Fall ride on which Sampson was killed. They likewise owed a duty to warn customers of any applicable height and weight restrictions on their amusement park rides and had a duty to properly train, supervise, and manage its employees on how to safely operate these rides. Icon Park breached these duties in multiple ways by failing to own, operate, and control a safe amusement park, failing to safely operate, control, manage, and supervise the Free Fall amusement ride, failing to warn of the risks associated with the Free Fall amusement ride, failing to instruct Sampson of the applicable height and weight restrictions, failing to properly train its employees on said restrictions, failing to provide proper safety equipment to Sampson during the ride, and a variety of other related claims. This breach of duty was the proximate cause of the resultant harm that the family experienced, namely the death of their son. The lawsuit also listed claims against the manufacturer of the amusement ride, arguing multiple breaches of duties and citing manufacturing defects.

Icon Park filed a motion to dismiss in July 02 2022 on technical grounds, arguing that plaintiffs had lumped four separate entities together in the initial complaint and that the suit needed to be amended to provide each defendant a factual basis on the claims against each separate entity before it could go to a jury trial.


Subsequent to defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced that they are seeking a $250,000 fine against Slingshot Group (owners of Icon Park) for its negligent operation of the ride and a lifetime ban against the Group, which would render the entity incapable of operating an amusement ride in the state of Florida. The Slingshot Group has requested an administrative hearing to appeal the fine and is challenging parts of the state’s investigation. Following the state’s investigation, the Group announced that they would tear down the Free Fall ride, to respect the Sampson family wishes as well as public outcry over his death.

Other Notes

Interestingly, this is not the first death that has occurred in recent years on Icon Park properties. In 2020, an Icon Park employee fell to his death from the450-foot-tall StarFlyer swing ride. 21-year-old Jacob Kaminsky was performing routine maintenance when he fell 50 or 60 feet onto a platform. A subsequent federal investigation found that Kaminsky was not hooked up properly to the ride’s safety device when he fell during the safety check.

Additionally, in early January of 2023, the 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel at Icon Park lost power, stranding 62 riders suspended in midair. First responders had to manually turn the wheel so that firefighters could rescue the occupants. The incident lasted 3 hours total, but none of the passengers were injured. It is believed that one of the ride’s generators blew, which caused the outage.


Dodd and Sampson v. Icon Park (Fla. 9th Cir. Ct. 2022). Retrieved from

Michael S. Carroll is a Full Professor of Sport Management at Troy University specializing in research related to sport law and risk management in sport and recreation. He also serves as Online Program Coordinator for Troy University and works closely with students in the TROY doctoral program.

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