Mother Reaches Settlement With Orlando FreeFall Operator ICON Park After Teenager Falls To Death
The mother of a Missouri teenager who died last year while on the world’s tallest tower has reached a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit with the park operator. Florida attractions and rides, his attorney said Wednesday.
Fourteen-year-old Tire Sampson died after slipping from his seat during the Orlando FreeFall ride at ICON Park on March 24, 2022, falling more than 100 feet to his death, according to the lawsuit. The eighth grader was a star soccer player who visited the theme park with his team during spring break.
Last year, Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot, the ride’s operator, decided to dismantle the 430-foot-tall attraction following Sampson’s death.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Nekia Dodd, Sampson’s mother, said at a press conference Wednesday near ICON Park as the Orlando FreeFall ride continues to be dismantled.
“The ride is going downhill, and I’m grateful for that. But my son won’t be coming back,” Dodd said.
Wednesday marked the first time Dodd saw the ride where his son died.
“My son took his last breath on this ride. So it’s tough. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
His attorney, Michael Haggard, announced at the press conference that a settlement has been reached between Dodd, ICON Park and Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot. They declined to discuss the terms of the settlement, although Dodd said she would like to use it to “keep my son’s legacy alive” by giving back to community sports and schools.
Additional steps to hold other companies accountable are continuing, according to Haggard, who claimed the ride’s maker – Funtime Handels of Austria – had tried to “shirk responsibility”.
In a statement to ABC News on Wednesday, ICON Park deferred questions about the lawsuit to Sampson’s family.
“Although the FreeFall ride is not owned, controlled or operated by ICON Park, as it is a tenant on the property, we agree with the owner’s decision to dismantle the ride and our hearts are with the family as they witness this important milestone,” the statement read.
Operator error is believed to be the primary cause of Sampson’s death, according to a forensic engineer’s field investigation report released in April. The report showed that the individual operator of the FreeFall ride, who has not been identified, “made manual adjustments to the ride which made it unsafe”.
According to the report, manual manipulations were made to the seat Sampson was sitting in to allow the harness restraint opening to be loosened, apparently to accommodate the over 300-pound teenager. The investigation found that Sampson’s harness restraint opening was “nearly double that of a normal restraint opening range”.
The Tire Sampson Act, a Florida bill that aims to protect future amusement park users with enhanced safety rules, advanced after its first hearing on Monday.