ST. LOUIS, Mo. - "You stripped me of my son."
Nekia Dodd, the mother of Tyre Sampson, the 14-year-old who died after he fell from the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride in March, told reporters Tuesday that everyone – the manufacturer, park operators, and ride operators – is equally at fault in her son's death.
She spoke to reporters for the first time since her son's death on Tuesday afternoon from St. Louis, where Sampson lived.
She remembered her son as a gentle giant who was well-respected, well-mannered, loved football, and dreamed of playing professionally.
On Monday, Dodd and Yarnell Sampson, Tyre's father, filed a joint 65-page lawsuit against multiple businesses connected to the design, development, construction, and operation of the ride.
Watch the full press conference in the video player above.
Among several allegations, the lawsuit alleges that operators failed to follow the ride's safety guidelines, failed to ensure Sampson was properly secured in the seat, failed to post warnings or train staff about height and/or weight restrictions, and failed to install "adequate restraint systems," such as a seatbelt (the manufacturer previously said that a safety belt would be a redundant safety feature).
CONTINUING COVERAGE: Orlando FreeFall Death Investigation
The family lawyer said the goal is to determine who is responsible.
Sampson died March 24 after he fell out of the restraints while on the relatively new drop tower attraction – billed as the world's tallest drop tower – at ICON Park in Orlando, Florida. Video of the incident was shared widely on social media. The teen was visiting Orlando on spring break with another family from St. Louis, Missouri, according to the lawsuit.
The family is seeking an unknown amount in damages and requested a jury trial.
Another news conference regarding the case took place at ICON Park on Tuesday afternoon, during which Yarnell Sampson and attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard discussed the lawsuit.
ORLANDO FREEFALL DEATH INVESTIGATION
Last week, Quest Engineering, a forensics company hired by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, to investigate what happened, released its initial report and determined that the operator of the ride made "manual adjustments" to the ride's harness proximity sensor on two of the seats, including the one Sampson was in, which falsely showed that Sampson was secured in his seat and that the ride was safe to operate.
Those changes allowed the ride's restraint opening to be more than double what it was supposed to be, said Commissioner Nikki Fried during a press conference last week.
The average gap is supposed to be nearly three inches, according to Quest Engineering's report. The gap for Sampson's seat was nearly seven inches, which allowed him to slip between the restraint and the seat after the ride's magnets engaged to slow it down, the report concluded.
It was also determined that the ride itself did not experience a mechanical or electrical failure, according to the report, though there were other contributing factors to Sampson's death. It did not elaborate on what those contributing factors were.
Following Sampson's death, an investigation opened and questions were raised about how it happened and how to avoid it, including whether Sampson was properly secured into his seat, whether he was too physically large or too tall, or exceeded the ride's weight restrictions.
An operating manual from the ride's manufacturer for the Orlando FreeFall stated that the maximum passenger weight is just over 286 pounds. Sampson was 6 feet, 5 inches tall and reportedly weighed 380 pounds, according to the lawsuit.
HOW TALL IS ORLANDO FREEFALL? WHO OWNS IT?
The ride is a vertical drop tower that takes riders some 400 feet into the air, briefly tilts them forward, and then drops them several hundred feet toward the ground before magnets engage and slow it down.
It opened in December 2021 alongside the Orlando Slingshot, two new rides from The Slingshot Group, an amusement company that owns multiple attractions and rides around Central Florida, that opened at ICON Park.
Both rides have been closed since March 2022, pending multiple ongoing investigations.
Following Monday's lawsuit filing, The Slingshot Group released a statement through one of its attorneys that said, "Orlando Slingshot continues to fully cooperate with the State during its investigation, and we will continue to do so until it has officially concluded."
"We reiterate that all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided by the manufacturer of the ride were followed," the statement read. The group also said it looks forward to working with the Florida Legislature to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.