ICON Park, Orlando area: 14-year-old falls to death from recently opened drop tower ride

Tire Sampson, 14, of Missouri, fell from the Orlando FreeFall ride, described by its operators as the world’s tallest freestanding drop tower, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said.
Deputies were called to ICON Park Around 11 pm Sampson was taken to a hospital, where he died from his injuries, the sheriff’s office said. Details about what led to the fall were not immediately released.

Sheriff’s investigators will determine whether the incident was an accident or intentional, but from an initial investigation, “it appears to be a terrible tragedy,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said.

“Yes (he was secured in the seat). That’s what we know at this time. So again, we operate the ride with all the safety precautions in mind and everything is in place and this is why we’re doing an investigation,” John Stine, sales and marketing director for the Slingshot Group, told Spectrum News 13.

The Slingshot Group operates the FreeFall, a 430-foot-tall tower and ride. It will be closed “until further notice,” Slingshot Group spokesperson Brooke Jones said Friday morning. The company also operates two other rides at the park.

The FreeFall has a vehicle encircling the tower that takes up to 30 riders to the structure’s top.

“Once the ride vehicle reaches the top, it’s tilt forward 30 degrees and face the ground before free falling nearly 400 feet at speeds reaching over 75 mph,” ICON Park’s website says.

Stine declined Friday morning to answer reporters’ questions about what led to the fall.

“Our hearts are broken for that family of the young man. We’re going to do everything we can to work with the investigative authorities to get to the matter of this,” Stine said.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will have inspectors at the site Friday “with our investigation underway,” department spokesperson Caroline Stonecipher told CNN. The department has statewide responsibility to inspect all amusement rides in Florida, except for those at large parks that have more than 1,000 employees and have full-time inspectors on staff.

The sheriff’s office has not gotten previous complaints about the ride, Mina said. But he stressed that the state Agriculture Department would be responsible for examining any such complaints.

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CNN has sought comment from park officials, plus further comment and FreeFall ride inspection records from the Agriculture Department.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the victim’s name based on information from authorities.

CNN’s Leyla Santiago and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.

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