Rider weight has played a part in previous amusement ride accidents, investigations show

Early indications from state officials are that 14-year-old Tyre Sampson may not have been properly restrained in the Orlando Free Fall because of his size. 

FOX 35 has learned that weight has played a part in other amusement ride accidents dating back more than 20 years. 

"I was holding on for dear life because I was scared," recalled Mike Dwaileebe. "I came out and the lap bar went down to my waist – went from my stomach to waist. Going through the ride on the negative Gs, I was coming out of my seat every time." 

It was May 16, 1999.  Dwaileebe was on the newly opened "Superman Ride of Steel" roller coaster at Six Flags Darien Lake in Upstate New York. 

As the coaster came to a stop at the end of the ride - he was thrown out. 

"I landed on a girl two seats ahead of me on her neck, pushed her head forward, and then fell 12 feet to the ground," he told FOX 35 News. 

Dwaileebe says he weighed 420 pounds at the time. And that he never should have been allowed to get on in the first place because he was too big.

FOX 35 has found cases of two other people reportedly thrown off rollercoasters – because of their size. Stanley Mordarsky died in 2004 in Massachusetts. Rosa Ayala-Gaona Esparza was killed in 2013 in Texas.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the early investigation into the Orlando Free Fall shows that may be the case in Sampson’s death too. 

In fact, state officials say the ride operator manually adjusted the seats to allow bigger customers. 

"As the American public gets larger… it’s an ever present situation that we have to be cognizant of," said Ken Martin, an amusement ride safety expert. 

According to the CDC, 42 percent of Americans were found to be obese from 2017-2018.

Orlando native Jeff Jenkins writes a blog geared for plus-size travelers. 

"You see everybody else in the cue waiting to get on and they can see you getting on - then you have multiple people coming to try to squish you into the ride and that can be nerve wracking," said the Chubby Diaries author. 

Jenkins says he’s done his own research to share with readers so they can avoid feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed.  

"Almost a public display of if I can fit or not," Jenkins described. 

Part of the problem: there doesn’t seem to be a "one-size-fits all’ approach to weight restrictions. 

Some rides offer test seats, others post weight limits and even have scales. 

One ride expert told FOX 35 there’s a loophole in posting size restrictions - that if the manufacturer doesn’t require it, the operator doesn’t have to. 

According to the ride manual for the Orlando Free Fall, the maximum passenger weight is 287 pounds. Sampson’s dad says his son was 340 pounds.  It’s still unclear if any weight restrictions were posted in front of the Orlando ride. 

"It’s serious. This ride, plus the several dozen that have preceded this, have shown that," Martin said. 

Jenkins says he’d like all rides to post weight restrictions and even measurements. He’s also challenging ride designers to build rides that fit larger people. 

"The smart ingenuity of humans can make a ride safe and more accessible to more people," Jenkins said. 

Dwaileebe says because of his injuries from the accident, he lives in pain. He was awarded nearly $3 million after his accident. What was supposed to be a two minute thrill changed his life forever. 

"The attendant didn’t know… 420 pounds. He should have told me don’t go on and I wouldn’t have gone on," he said. 

If you have questions about getting on a ride, some parks post weight information online. There are also bloggers, like Jenkins who provide information. 

If you’re already in line, the FDACS says you should look for signs, ask the operator questions and report any concerns. 

The department says if you’re worried or not comfortable – don’t ride.