The father of a Missouri teenager who died after he fell 430 feet from an amusement park ride says park officials are ‘sweeping his son’s death under the rug’ because he is black.
Yarnell Sampson said at a news conference on Monday that authorities at the ICON Park in Orlando, Florida have continued to let the Free Fall ride stand since his son, Tyre, fell from the ride in March after he slipped out of his seat and crashed into the ground.
An autopsy revealed last week that Tyre died from blunt force trauma after he smashed into the concrete below the ride. It also revealed that Tyre weighed 393 pounds, well above the ride manual’s weight limit of 287 pounds.
He suffered numerous broken bones and internal injuries in the fall, which was ruled an accidental death, and Yarnell said that at his funeral his son’s bloated face was unrecognizable.
An initial report by outside engineers hired by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also found that sensors on the ride had been adjusted manually to double the size of the opening for restraints on two seats, resulting in Sampson not being properly secured.
In the aftermath, Yarnell said on Monday, park officials vowed to put up a memorial for Tyre at the site – but when he returned to the park this weekend, he noticed the memorial that was there was taken down, and the park was hosting a festival at the site.
‘They were supposed to erect a permanent memorial,’ famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Tyre’s family, said at the news conference.
‘There was no evidence that his son ever died here.’
Meanwhile, the ride has remained closed since the incident as the investigation continues.
‘I don’t want to use the race thing,’ Yarnell said at the news conference in front of the park on Monday. ‘But I believe that because my son is a black young man, he is getting treated like this. I believe if it was a European child, it would have been different.’
Yarnell went on to describe his son as a top student, who played for the number one youth football team in the country, loved to do magic and was a talented rapper.
‘Everything was lining up for him to be great,’ he said. ‘Plus he has talent. He could rap. He was a magician. He had a lot of other things besides football going for him, so why doesn’t his life matter?’
Yarnell Sampson, right, the father of a 14-year-old boy who fell to his death from a ride at ICON Park in Orlando, Florida in March, said park officials are trying to ‘sweep his death under the rug’ because he is black
Famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Sampson’s family in a lawsuit against the park and the ride manufacturers, said park officials took down a memorial at the site and were supposed to erect a permanent one
An autopsy last week revealed that Tyre weighed 393 pounds, well above the ride manual’s weight limit of 287 pounds
Tyre was visiting Orlando – the amusement park capital of the world – with his friend’s family on March 24 when he died.
His friends have previously said the teen who was 6 foot five inches had been turned away from other rides for his 383 pound size
But when he approached the Free Fall ride, his family claims, he was not turned away – and instead amusement park operators manually changed the sensors on the ride to manually adjust the restraints on Tyre’s seat.
As a result, they claim, he was not properly restrained, and could be seen in a video that circulated after his death apparently falling as magnets activated to slow the ride down on its descent.
‘Tyre was too big to have been on that ride. There is no question about that,’ famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family, told reporters on Monday.
But he added: ‘These companies can’t get away with this putting profit over safety.’
Yarnell is now trying to get 25,000 signed petitions to get the ride taken down, he said at the news conference, claiming that if it isn’t torn down another child may be hurt in the future.
The family is also suing the ride’s owner, manufacturer and landlord, saying they were negligent and failed to provide a safe amusement ride.
The lawsuit states that the defendants failed to warn Sampson about the risks of someone of his size going on the ride and that they did not provide an appropriate restraint system.
‘The reason why we’re here is to make sure no one else goes through the same thing down the road,’ he said, adding that unless there are safety changes on tower drop rides ‘somebody else is going to die.’
He also said of the Free Fall ride: ‘That’s a permanent reminder every time I look up at that ride that my son fell 400-something feet, crashed to the earth to his death.’
Still, he said: ‘I’m still a father, I’m still a parent, I still got Father’s Day – so why let this thing get swept under the rug because of corporate people [wanting] to get more money.
‘I mean something’s got to change,’ Yarnell said. ‘It’s all about compassion for human life.’
A report also found that the teen’s seat sensors had to be manually altered to be able to fit Sampson and video from the event appears to show the teen’s harness being loose
Video from March 24 appears to show Tyre falling out of his seat as it began to descend
Inspectors from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services examine the FreeFall ride after Sampson’s death
In a viral video that circulated after Tyre’s death, a ride operator could be hear asking another if they had ‘checked’ the seatbelt.
‘Yeah, the light was one,’ one of the ride operators said in the video.
‘We both…we checked it. The light was on,’ a third worker said.
According to the ride’s operating manual, attendants also must manually check the restraints when loading a guest in, pulling on it to ensure it’s locked in.
The ride will also not ascend unless riders are locked into their seats.
The operator’s manual also suggest for workers to be ‘careful’ and to make sure that ‘large guests fit into the seats.’
‘Check that they fit within the contours of the seat and the bracket fits properly. If this is not so — Do not let this person ride,’ the manual explicitly states.
Sampson had been worried about the harness prior to the ride beginning, his father said, and told his friends sitting next to him to tell his parents that he loved them
‘When the ride took off, that’s when he was feeling uncomfortable. He was like ‘this thing is moving,’ you know what I’m saying. And he was like ‘what’s going on?’ Yarnell told WOFL-TV.
The grieving father said that Tyre began to panic and shared a chilling premonition with his two best friends, seated next to him on the ride.
‘That’s when he started freaking out. And he was explaining to his friends, next to him: “I don’t know man, if I don’t make it down, safely, can you please tell my momma and daddy that I love them,”‘ said Sampson. ‘For him to say something like that, he must have felt something.’
‘This particular ride decided: “Yeah, we can take you, get on,” when nobody else would allow him to get on the rides,’ he added.
Yarnell described his son on Monday as a top student, who played for the number one youth football team in the country, loved to do magic and was a talented rapper
Tyre’s family is now suing the ride owner, the manufacture, and the landlord for negligence because they didn’t provide a ‘safe’ ride
Now, Florida State Rep. Geraldine Thompson is drafting a bill that would take a company’s safety history into account more closely when applying for permits to open tower drop rides in the future.
Under the bill, manufacturers of the rides would have to send each amusement park safety guidelines, which the amusement park must display – showing the weight and height limits of each ride.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services would then inspect an amusement park’s compliance with these regulations.
In a statement, the manufacturer of the Free Fall ride at ICON Park, the Orlando Slingshot Group, said: ‘We support the concepts outlined today in Florida Sen. Geraldine Thompson’s “Tyre Sampson Bill.”
‘The safety of our patrons always comes first.’
The group, though, denied her allegations that it has applied for a permit to open a second ride at the park, saying: ‘Our company is not planning to open a new ride at ICON Park, however, we do hope to reopen the Slingshot ride once we have all the necessary approvals from the Department of Agriculture.
‘Also, we have been coordinating with representatives of Tyre’s family to return items from the memorial area to them, and we will continue to do so in the future.’