The mother of Tyre Sampson — the 14-year-old who fell to his death from the FreeFall ride at Orlando’s ICON Park last spring— visited the attraction for the first time Wednesday to witness its demolition.
Tyre Sampson was visiting Orlando from Missouri while on Spring Break with his friends last March when he slipped out of the harness about halfway down the 400-foot drop and plummeted to his death in front of horrified spectators.
“Unfortunately, when he passed, I wasn’t there for him. So, I had to do this,” the teen’s mother, Nekia Dodd, told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday. “I didn’t want to come under these circumstances, but… I had to. I gotta say, my emotions are all over.”
“My son took his last breath on this ride, so it’s heartbreaking, it’s devastating,” Dodd said. “It’s a feeling I hope no parent will ever have to go through after this ride comes down.”
The ride is in the process of being demolished ahead of the one-year anniversary of the March 24 tragedy after an agreement was made between the company and the Florida Department of Agriculture last fall, according to WFLA.
“I do appreciate the state of Florida, the Department of Agriculture, all those people for agreeing and allowing this ride to come down,” Dodd said. “It’s a horrendous ride. It should have never been built if you ask me.”
Dodd visited the site along with her daughter, niece and two attorneys Michael Haggard and Kimberly Wald who announced that they had reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount with both Orlando FreeFall’s owner-operator in Florida, Slingshot Group, and the company that leased the space, ICON Park, WKMG-TV reported.
The family had sued ride manufacturer Funtime Thrill Rides, Slingshot Group and ICON Park last April. Haggard said the family is still battling Funtime Thrill Rides, an Austrian manufacturer, in court.
An autopsy found that the Tyre, at 383 pounds, was nearly 100 pounds over the ride’s weight limit of 287 pounds, allowing him to slip out of the safety harness and to the pavement below. The seat was still in the locked position after the ride came to a rest, staffers told authorities.
His death was caught on video and quickly went viral.
Tyre’s family said after the incident he had been turned away from other rides the day of his death because of his weight.
Tyre suffered internal injuries along with trauma to his head, neck and torso.
The ride opened in December 2021 and claimed to be the country’s tallest free-standing drop tower, with riders falling at speeds up to 75 miles per hour.
Dodd is hoping to keep her son’s memory alive with a new amusement park safety bill introduced in the Florida legislature, the Tyre Sampson Safety Act, which was approved by the state senate on Monday.
Additionally, she’s launched the Tyre Sampson Foundation to support school athletic programs to honor her son, who was a standout football player.