The head of the Florida agency charged with investigating whether there were security failures when a boy fell to his death last week while on a ride at an Orlando amusement park acknowledged Friday there is no direct oversight of what thrill-ride manufacturers put in their manuals dictating safety measures.
Nikki Fried, commissioner of the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, spoke during a press conference Friday about the investigation into the death of a 14-year-old Missouri boy, Tyre Sampson, who fell from the Free Fall attraction at ICON Park on March 24.
When Fried was asked by a reporter to clarify that no federal or state agency oversees what manufacturers put in their ride manuals, she said, "That's correct."
"There is no oversight board that says that. However, per our statutes, every single ride needs to have an affidavit from an engineer, engineering firms that sign the affidavit on … the protocols of every aspect of the ride, making sure that it is safe. So we have to make sure that when we authorize a ride to open, that we have received that documentation both in the manufacturers and from an expert engineer who has done all the necessary testing … and that's what we have to rely on."Fried also said the agency has hired the Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis Inc., a forensic engineering firm based in Tallahassee, to assist with the investigation.
There are no immediate answers as to whether there were any security failures prior to the boy's death, Fried said.
"We are not taking this lightly. We are going to do everything in our power and including, potentially, increasing our power, to make sure something like this never happens again," she said. "We are fully committed to finding out what happened so we can better prevent such tragedies from happening in the future."
Orange County Sheriff John W. Mina said during a news conference last week that the incident appeared to be accidental.
"It appears to be a terrible tragedy," the sheriff said. "Our prayers and thoughts are with the family. We can't imagine what they're going through," he said.
Officials with the state's agriculture department have said the Free Fall ride was inspected for the first time on Dec. 20. No deficiencies were found and the ride passed its inspection, officials said. Because Free Fall is a new ride, and the agency conducts safety inspections twice a year, no additional inspections on it had occurred prior to the teen's death, officials said.
On Monday, the agriculture department released documents related to its investigation, including the ride's operations manual, which says 286.6 pounds is the maximum weight for each rider. It states that attendants need to pay particular attention to large riders and turn them away if they don't fit.
A state accident report said that magnets work to stop the ride and that "when the magnets engaged, the patron came out of the seat." "Harness was still in a down and locked position when the ride stopped," the report stated.
When construction started on the Free Fall in 2019, it was billed as the tallest drop tower ride in the world, with a planned height of more than 400 feet.
On Tuesday, the owner of the Free Fall and another ride in the park, the Slingshot, said both were closed.
"We have suspended the operations of the FreeFall ride and the Slingshot ride at Icon Park," Ritchie Armstrong, the CEO of the Slingshot Group, said in a statement.
"We are heartbroken by the loss of Tyre Sampson and absolutely devastated for his family and loved ones. We are fully cooperating with the authorities at the state and local levels who are investigating this tragic incident," Armstrong said.
Carl Sampson, Tyre's uncle, told NBC News that his nephew was in Florida with teammates from his football team while on spring break.
"He was a really good kid. Really respectable. It was always, 'No sir. Yes sir.' ... He had a bright future ahead. He was very intelligent."
Sampson said his nephew was excited to be in Florida and was a fan of amusement parks. "It is hard to believe. He was just 14 years old. It was very tragic that it happened. He was too young."
A former coach, Arnaud Jones, described him as a straight-A student who was never in trouble, according to NBC affiliate KSDK St. Louis.
The owner and operator of the ride has said the boy was secured into a safety harness, but the ride lacked seat belts, which was addressed by state Rep. Geraldine Thompson on Friday, who spoke during the media briefing. Thompson's constituents include Orlando residents.
"Based on the investigation, it may be that we look at seat belts," Thompson said.
She mentioned how cars have seat belts and air bags.
"Redundancy is a good thing. It may be the investigation will point out that not only the harness, but an additional safeguard, which would have been a seat belt, could have saved Tyre's life," Thompson said.