ORLANDO (CBSMiami/AP) – As a ride vehicle on a 430-foot tall drop tower ride at Orlando’s ICOn park plunged toward the ground, a 14-year-old boy appeared to have slipped out of his seat at the halfway point and fell to his death.
That’s according to an Orange County Sheriff’s Office incident report that was released Tuesday.
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The father of a friend of Tyre Sampson who witnessed the March 24 accident told deputies that the teen appeared to fall out of his seat when plunging passengers on the Free Fall ride passed a yellow reflective tape halfway down the tower. The ride reaches speeds of 75 mph, according to the sheriff’s office report.
When the teen hit the ground, he appeared to be breathing but was unresponsive, Leon Howard told deputies.
Howard’s son, also named Leon Howard, was friends with Sampson from a travel football team and was also on the ride at the time of the accident. Sampson, who was 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and weighed more than 300 pounds, had traveled from Missouri to Orlando with his friend’s family for a vacation.
The younger Leon Howard told deputies that at the top of the ride, which is taller than the Statue of Liberty, he became nervous and closed his eyes until the ride stopped.
The incident report said nobody touched Sampson on the ground until deputies arrived. According to 911 calls released Tuesday, dispatchers asked witnesses who had called in the accident if they could perform CPR on Sampson.
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One man told the dispatcher that Sampson was face down, “and he’s about 300 pounds.” The dispatcher started asking him to have someone help him move Sampson onto his back, but then deputies arrived at the scene.
The investigation into Sampson’s death is ongoing.
An initial report by outside engineers hired by the Florida Department of Agriculture said 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 before he slipped out and fell to his death.
The Department of Agriculture report said there were many other “potential contributions” to the accident and that a full review of the ride’s design and operations was needed.
Last week, Sampson’s parents sued the ride’s owner, manufacturer, and landlord, saying they were negligent and failed to provide a safe amusement ride. The lawsuit said 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 Sheriff’s Investigation simply confirms how tragic this accident was that took Tyre’s life,” Michael Haggard, an attorney for Sampson’s mother, Nekia Dodd, said in an email Tuesday. “It was a totally preventable incident that should have never happened, but for the absolute negligence of all involved.”
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(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)