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Orlando amusement ride to be permanently shut down after teen's fatal fall

"We have listened to the wishes of Tyre’s family and the community, and have made the decision to take down the FreeFall,” ride operator Orlando Slingshot said.
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A Florida amusement park ride will be permanently shut down following a 14-year-old boy's fatal fall from the ride in March, the operator announced Thursday.

Ritchie Armstrong of Orlando Slingshot, which operates the 400-foot-tall FreeFall ride at ICON Park in Orlando, said the ride will close following the death on March 24 of Tyre Sampson, who was visiting Florida from Missouri with football teammates.

“We are devastated by Tyre’s death," Armstrong said in the statement. "We have listened to the wishes of Tyre’s family and the community, and have made the decision to take down the FreeFall. In addition, Orlando Slingshot will honor Tyre and his legacy in the classroom and on the football field by creating a scholarship in his name.”

A makeshift memorial for Tyre Sampson
Tyre Sampson was visiting the park with football teammates.Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

The FreeFall ride and another ride owned by Orlando Slingshot were both temporarily shut down after the fatal fall.

The timeline to remove the ride is not immediately clear, said the statement, which notes that it will require the approval of "all involved parties and regulatory entities."

The statement also said details of the scholarship are still being developed, adding that more details will be shared "in the future and after consultation with the family of Tyre."

ICON Park, where Orlando Slingshot leases land for the ride, said in a statement that it supports the decision.

“Tyre’s death is a tragedy that we will never forget. As the landlord, ICON Park welcomes and appreciates Orlando Slingshot’s decision to take down the ride."

The day after the death, officials called the ride an "immediate serious danger to public health."

Officials have said "operator mis-adjustments" contributed to Tyre’s sliding out of his seat to his death.

“Manual adjustments had been made to the sensor for the seat in question that allowed the harness-to-restraint opening to be almost double that of the normal restraint-opening range,” state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in April.

Tyre, who was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed about 380 pounds, making him about 100 pounds above the weight limit, slipped through the gap between the harness and the seat, according to a state report.

Photos and video posted online apparently show that Tyre was not fully buckled into the ride.

In video of the incident obtained by NBC News, a voice is heard asking: “Why doesn’t this have the little clicky click to it, like the seat belt?”

As the ride starts, a voice from the ground shouts: “Hey, did you check your seat belt on the left side? Seat belt! Seat belt!”

Officials said the ride had last been inspected about three months before Tyre's death, on Dec. 20, and that no deficiencies had been found.

Florida officials have said there is no federal or state oversight of what thrill-ride manufacturers put in their manuals dictating safety measures.

Tyre's parents, Nekia Dodd and Yarnell Sampson, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in April against Orlando Slingshot, ICON Park and Funtime Handels GMBH and Gerstlauer Amusement Rides GMBH, the Austrian company that designed and manufactured the ride. They said they hope the lawsuit will spark change.

“He could have been a doctor, lawyer, astronaut, anything,” Yarnell Sampson said in April. “We both dealing with this day by day, second by second, minute by minute, to be honest with you. The best thing to do is to get the ball moving towards the right direction — we can make change together.”