Tyre Sampson was on spring break in Orlando in March 2022 when he went with friends to have some fun at ICON Park. The 14-year-old St. Louis, Missouri native got on the FreeFall, marketed as the world’s tallest tower ride at 430 feet. On its descent, he fell out of his restraints and plummeted over 100 feet to his death.
Yesterday (March 15), Sampson’s mother, Nekia Dodd, visited ICON Park for the first time since the fatal incident and announced that she reached a settlement with the ride owners and the park. Her visit comes as crews work to tear down the now-defunct FreeFall with the goal of having it completely removed by March 24, the one-year anniversary of his death.
“My son took his last breath on this ride, so it’s heartbreaking, it’s devastating, it’s a feeling I hope no other parent will ever have to go through after this ride comes down,” Dodd shared in a news conference yesterday. “It’s a bittersweet moment, you know. The ride’s coming down, I’m thankful for that, but my son’s not coming back.”
Though the FreeFall, which opened in December 2021, was located in ICON Park, it was owned and operated by the Slingshot Group, who agreed to remove the attraction and pay a $250,000 fine for the deadly oversight. According to an investigation that concluded in the weeks following the accident, Sampson died as a result of the operator not properly securing him in his seat, leading him to fall out as the ride came down at a speed of over 70 miles per hour.
“This ride needs to come down,” Kim Wald, the Sampson family attorney, said at the press conference, per WESH. “We all know this ride needs to come down. It’s been almost a year, and the fact that this ride is still standing today really is just such a travesty.”
Dodd plans to use the funds from the settlement to start a foundation in her son’s name. A bill in his honor is also moving through the Florida legislature to ensure something like this never happens again. “Mainly, [the foundation] will be to keep my son’s legacy alive, and give back to the community, to support our area and schooling and things of that nature,” she said of her plans.