'Tyre Sampson Act': Florida lawmakers discuss ride safety bill

Florida lawmakers are debating proposed legislation for ride safety a year after 14-year-old Tyre Sampson fell to his death from a ride at ICON Park in Orlando. The state wants to make things safer, but they also want to make investigations into these issues more private.

It was just a few weeks ago that inspectors were at the 430-foot tall Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride. A state investigation found that someone manually adjusted Tyre’s seat making the harness too wide for the teen to be held properly.

Almost one year ago this month, the 14-year-old fell more than 100 feet to his death on the Orlando FreeFall ride.  

The legislation would require the state to sign off on rides before they open. Known as the Tyre Sampson Act, it would toughen regulations on rides and allow the state to review employee training and shut down rides that appear unsafe. 

State Senator Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said it was unfortunate that in many cases teenagers are put in positions to oversee ride safety with minimal training. She told FOX 35 News that she would offer an amendment to the bill that would increase personal safety even further.

"I just submitted an amendment to the restraint portion where now we are going to require seatbelts on any ride that goes up more than 100 feet.  The manufacturer did not require seatbelts in the instance of the ‘FreeFall’ ride, but I'm offering this amendment this afternoon that would indicate that if you go above 100 feet and there is another restraint, you must also have seatbelts," said Thompson. 

One other measure in the bill would allow for unannounced inspections of rides to make sure the rides are operating under the new safety laws.

Some ride experts said there are already safety guidelines in place that should be enforced under a new law. 

"You should be relying upon people who are experts in the business to design these safety systems and address the issues," said safety expert and engineer Mark Hanlon, who explained to FOX 35 News that the American National Standards Institute has guidelines in place to keep riders safe. "I get nervous when lawmakers just start writing laws like this because this, I don’t know, it’s not always the best thing."

"Do you want the fox guarding the hen house?" asked attorney Michael Haggard. "Industry experts are from the industry, so they want to control those standards."

Haggard represents Tyre’s mother and said a new law is needed to avoid another tragedy. "You had a ride go 420 feet up in the air, at a 90-degree angle and then come down at 75 mph to an abrupt stop at 100 feet. You don’t think you need two redundant safety issues there?" 

He said having both a seatbelt and safety restraint is needed to protect riders from falling. "Those standards currently do not have that, so the state of Florida has an extra precaution, which is great." 

However, Hanlon said operators will be forced to add both seatbelts and restraints to rides like a Ferris wheel, something he said is unnecessary. He said there need to be requirements on all high-energy rides, both new and old and would rather see lawmakers focus on this. "They can work on the penalties, what the remedies when these things happen, how they keep inspectors on the hook."

Haggard said once the Orlando FreeFall is completely down, he plans to watch where it goes from there, so no one else uses it for profit. "The taking down of that ride is not only something of the image but the legacy of Tyre."

The ride is expected to be taken down by next week, in time for the one-year remembrance of the tragedy.