ORLANDO, Fla. - The lights were off at the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride at ICON Park in Orlando late Monday evening. The attraction will remain shut down while an investigation continues into how 14-year-old Tyre Sampson fell off the ride to his death.
Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis, Inc, the forensic engineers hired by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, released their "Accident Field Investigation Report" earlier in the day.
"This report confirmed our department’s findings that the operator of the Orlando Drop tower made manual adjustments to the ride resulting in it being unsafe," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said during an afternoon briefing. "The report confirms that manual adjustments had been made to the sensor of the seat in question that allowed the harness restraint opening to be almost double that of the normal restraint opening range."
The state also released pictures of the ride and the seat in which Sampson rode – seat 1. The pictures in the report show the opening between the horn and the pull down mechanism of the harness. The investigators also show their measuring device showing a gap of seven inches in seat one. According to the report, the average restraint gap is 3.33 inches. The report states each seat has "a proximity sensor used to activate the safety lights when the harness is lowered to a preset location….inspection of the plates for seats 1 and 2 revealed evidence that adjustments were made to their proximity sensors location after the sensors were initially secured in place…"
Showing photographs of the plate location and clamping marks "demonstrating the sensor was previously secured and then moved," Commissioner Fried explained how that played a role the night Sampson died.
Commissioner Fried would not answer questions during her afternoon news conference.
CONTINUING COVERAGE: Orlando FreeFall death investigation at ICON Park
Sampson’s mother, Nekia Dodd, was notified of the findings by Fried in a personal phone call ahead of Monday's news conference, according to Dodd's lawyer.
"She’s again in shock. She’s absolutely distraught," said attorney Michael Haggard.
Ride experts said it’s unusual to make manual changes, and if they are made, it would be an owner or manager doing it, under the direction of the ride manufacturer. State inspectors said ride operators also have a responsibility to let them know if manual changes occur.
"They have to disclose adjustments to the ride that are different from the manufacturer’s requirements," said Richard Kimsey, assistant director for the Division of Consumer Services.
In this case, investigators have not said if they were notified, but Haggard said there were a series of mistakes that occurred, starting with not having a simple scale for a person to weigh themselves. Sampson was 360 pounds.
"They know that no one over 287 pounds can go on this ride, and they don’t have a scale," Haggard said. "This case stems from the design of this ride in Austria to this fateful night when it was operated with Tyre on it."
He said it has been a nightmare for Sampson's mother.
"I think what’s getting her though is she’s on a mission to make sure this never happens to another child."
This ride is in Florida State Rep. Geraldine Thompson's district. The Orlando Democrat said adjustments were made to both seat one and two, so larger riders could fit in them, and that it should not have happened.
Haggard said he plans to file a lawsuit in the next couple of weeks.
The Slingshot Group which owns and operates the ride released a statement.
"Orlando Slingshot has fully cooperated with the State during the initial phase of its investigation, and we will continue to do so until it has officially concluded. All protocols, procedures and safety measures provided to us by the manufacturer of the ride were followed. Today’s report suggests a full review of the ride’s design, safety, operation, restraint mechanisms and history – which of course we welcome. We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to implement change in the industry, as the safety of our patrons is always our top priority," wrote Trevor Arnold, the attorney who leads GrayRobinson's Construction Team.
They would not answer questions about the ride being manually adjusted.