Mom of teen killed on Florida ride says death could’ve been prevented: ‘My personal opinion, it’s murder’

Author: Michael George / CBS
Published: Updated:
A makeshift memorial for Tyre Sampson is viewed outside the Orlando Free Fall ride at the ICON Park entertainment complex, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. Sampson fell to his death while on the ride. PHELAN M. EBENHACK / AP

Nekia Dodd can’t stop thinking about the last conversation she had with her 14-year-old son, Tyre Sampson.

“He turns around and says, ‘I’ll see you Saturday or either Sunday.’ And that was my last time speaking to my son,” Dodd said during a news conference on Tuesday in St. Louis, Missouri.

Tyre died last month after he slipped through the seat of the Orlando Free Fall ride. His parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Icon Park as well as the manufacturer and the operator of the ride.

“It came out as ‘a tragic accident.’ It’s not an accident,” Dodd told CBS News. “My personal opinion, it’s murder.”

The phone call she received about the incident broke her heart, Dodd said.

“I’m like, it’s a movie. I’m thinking I’m in a movie. Am I dreaming?” she said. “I mean, worst nightmare ever. You see your child on a vacation with family and friends, and he didn’t return from a vacation. That’s, oh, that’s gruesome. That’s horrible.”

Tyre’s family believes a $22 seatbelt could have saved Tyre’s life and is calling for them to be installed on similar rides.

Dodd wants accountability for the son who was affectionately called a “gentle giant.”

“He didn’t deserve this. He did not deserve this,” she said.

A recent safety report concluded Tyre’s seat’s safety sensors were manually adjusted to allow for larger riders, leaving a gap between the harness and the seat more than twice the typical size.

Tyre weighed 380 pounds, according to the medical examiner. But the ride had a 287-pound maximum, according to the ride’s safety manual.

Michael Haggard, an attorney for the family, said there were no warning signs that someone of Tyre’s size should not have been allowed on the ride.

“And that’s the problem,” Haggard told CBS News.

Orlando Slingshot, which operates the Free Fall, said it’s cooperating with the investigation, adding that “all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided by the manufacturer of the ride were followed.”

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