The owners of the Orlando Free Fall at ICON Park and others involved in the tragedy were performing a final inspection of the drop tower on Thursday, a crucial step for the attraction to be taken down in response to the death of 14-year-old tourist Tyre Sampson in March.
Kim Wald, an attorney representing Tyre’s mother, Nekia Dodd, said representatives for ride manufacturers Funtime Handels GmbH and Gerstlauer Amusement Rides GmbH, ride operator Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot and lawyers for the companies and Tyre’s family are at the 430-foot-tall ride on International Drive.
The teams are taking measurements of the drop tower and running it as part of their final assessment to start the process of dismantling the ride, which could take weeks, Wald said. The ride is billed as the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower.
“This was one of the very first calls for action that [Tyre’s family] had in this case: to make sure that this ride is taken down,” she said in an interview. “The fact that it is still up is just a constant reminder of the tragedy … We’re just looking forward to being able to finally put this behind us, move forward with the case and to continue our fight for Tyre.”
Tyre’s family’s legal team has already completed its independent inspection of the ride as part of its ongoing civil lawsuit against the ride’s operators and manufacturers, Wald said, and does not anticipate discovering any new details.
The group is hoping to have the ride taken down by March 24, the one-year anniversary of Tyre’s death.
“I don’t think we have the specific details on how all that’s going to be accomplished, but I think after today we’re going to start putting everything into place to have it demolished,” she said. “… I know that Slingshot is also committed to trying to get it down as soon as possible.”
Orlando Slingshot CEO Ritchie Armstrong said in November the company decided to dismantle the tower after listening to Tyre’s family and the community, and it also planned to start a scholarship in the St. Louis teenager’s name.
Attorney Trevor Arnold confirmed Orlando Slingshot is participating in the Free Fall’s final inspection.
“This is another step forward in the process to dismantle the ride,” he wrote in a statement. “We still expect the full process to take weeks, and it will ultimately require the use of cranes and other heavy machinery.”
ICON Park, Orlando Slingshot’s landlord, said in a statement Thursday it supports the company’s “decision to take down the ride as soon as possible and set up a scholarship in Tyre’s honor.”
Representatives for the ride’s manufacturers, which are based in Austria and Germany, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tyre, who surpassed the ride’s weight capacity by nearly 100 pounds, fell to his death when he slipped out of one of two harnesses Orlando Slingshot modified to open between three and four inches wider to accommodate larger guests, according to an investigative report released by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The ride operator initially denied the allegations in the report, which also accused the company of improper employee training and “deficient” record keeping on ride maintenance, but settled with the agency and paid a $250,000 fine earlier this month.
That settlement forbids the company from operating the Orlando Free Fall again and to “not apply or re-apply for a permit to do so at any time in the future.”
When the report was released in November, former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said her agency was forwarding it to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to determine any applicable criminal charges.
That criminal investigation is ongoing in collaboration with the State Attorney’s Office, an unsigned statement from the sheriff’s office said this week.
Another lawyer for Tyre’s mother, Michael Haggard, said the family is happy with the results of the state’s investigation, calling it “one of the most extensive amusement park injury investigations” the agency has ever conducted.
“The assurances that the ride will never operate again in the state of Florida, [its] permit is revoked and that that ride as constructed will never be used again — I think those are very important to the family, as [is] the acknowledgment by Slingshot, by everyone, that the official investigation says that this is an incident that was totally preventable,” Haggard said.
The fine is one of the largest the state has levied, Fried said in November. Wald said at the time its amount “pales in comparison to the priceless loss of Tyre, but it is one step in the right direction.”
The family’s lawyers are talking with ICON Park to place a memorial to Tyre on the site, something his family has called for for since the weeks following his death.
“I think that’s definitely something that will happen,” Haggard said.
[email protected] and @katievrice on Twitter