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Florida sues free-fall ride fine

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida state officials filed an administrative complaint against Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot, LLC, regarding the tragic death of 14-year-old Tire Sampson, who fell 70 feet from the ride in free fall while riding in the ICON Park had crashed earlier this year.

Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried made the announcement on Tuesday.

“Today, my department filed an administrative complaint alleging multiple violations of Florida law related to these findings,” Fried said. “We are seeking an administrative penalty of over $250,000 – one of the largest ever sought and a permanent suspension of the ride’s operating license in the state of Florida.”

She added, “Given the scale of this incident, it was important to me that the department took the time necessary to conduct a thorough investigation and get this right.”

In March, an investigation into the ride found that the proximity sensor in Tire’s seat had been manually repositioned to allow for a larger restraint opening than the ride’s other seats.

The ride’s weight limit for a driver was capped at 287 pounds, but autopsy results showed the teenager weighed 383 pounds. A ride safety analyst said he should never have gotten on the ride.

“Because the proximity sensor of the driving harness was set incorrectly, the journey was allowed to begin, although this was unsafe and led directly to the problem [Tyre’s] fall,” said Fried.

Tire’s autopsy results showed the 14-year-old suffered serious internal injuries, as well as injuries to his head, neck and torso. His injuries included a broken arm, leg, jaw, and multiple fractured ribs.

His death was ruled an accident.

Fried said there was no driver training manual, noting that ride drivers received minimal training.

Fried was also joined by State Senator Geraldine Thompson to present a series of proposed legislation to increase driver safety across the state.

The proposals included expanded signing requirements for user qualifications. At the moment, the law only requires signage to be put up by the ride manufacturer.

Fried also proposed an increased number of “safety system checks” before engineers sign off during the approval process, an updated “major change” term to encompass any changes to safety systems, and an increase in required amusement ride accident reporting.

“Eventually, we want to apply for new positions with the sole task of inspecting permanent rides and traveling shows and fairs to oversee safe operations and review on-site staff training during operations,” Fried said.

Safety monitors would make unannounced visits to ensure safety is being followed.

In response to Tuesday’s announcement, attorneys for the Orlando Slingshot ride said, “We continue to support the Florida law amendments that Farm Commissioner Fried and Senator Thompson outlined today. We share their goal to prevent a tragic accident like Tire’s from ever happening again. We are working closely with FDACS and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in their respective investigations. We have cooperated with the authorities since the accident and will continue to do so with full transparency.

“Immediately after this tragic accident, we promptly investigated and took appropriate action as a result of this investigation. This included the suspension of two employees based on the results of our internal investigation. We also brought in two outside companies to improve training, maintenance and security practices. We have taken these steps to ensure continued operations are in accordance with applicable standards and recommendations.”

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