ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A rising Missouri football player, just 14 years old but already 6-foot-5 and well over 300 pounds, Tire Sampson has died from a towering Florida carousel. Lawyers for his family want to know if neglect of his size or other factors played a role.
“This young man, he was athletic and he was tall. He had no way of knowing,” Bob Hilliard, a Texas attorney who represents Tyre’s mother, Nekia Dodd, said in an interview on Saturday. “It’s going to be a problem of lack of supervision and lack of training. A case of pure and simple negligence.
On Saturday, investigators continued to examine what happened Thursday night when Sampson abandoned his seat from a 430ft free-falling amusement park ride that is taller than the Statue of Liberty along from a busy street in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district not far from Disney World.
The ride takes customers to this height, tilts so they face the ground for a moment or two, then plummets to the ground at speeds of 75 mph (about 121 km/h) or more.
Renowned civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who works with Hilliard and represents Tyre’s father, Yarnell Sampson, said the family were “shocked and heartbroken by the loss of their son”.
“This young man was the kind of son everyone hopes for – an honor roll student, a budding athlete and a generous person who cared about others,” Crump said in a statement Saturday.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates amusement rides in Florida except for major theme parks, declined to comment on Saturday except to say that the investigation is ongoing.
The Icon Park attraction said in a statement that it is cooperating fully with investigators and that the Orlando FreeFall ride will be closed indefinitely. It opened late last year on International Drive, a tourist hotspot.
“We are heartbroken by the incident which claimed the life of one of our guests. We extend our condolences and deepest sympathy to his family and friends,” said a statement from SlingShot Group, which use the route.
Tire was a giant for his age, already the size of an NFL offensive lineman. His family say he yearned to play professional football, like many athletically able kids who see a way to buy their mom a house and raise everyone in the family to a new level.
“It was his dream, and he was on his way,” Wendy Wooten, his mother-in-law, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He had so many scouts watching him. He was going to be a great football player.
Tire was part of a group called the St. Louis Bad Boyz Football Club that was in Orlando for a week-long training camp, the Post-Dispatch reported. The group had chaperones and, by all accounts, were doing what millions of people do every spring break in Orlando: enjoying the theme parks and rides.
He was a student at City Garden Montessori School in St. Louis. The school sent a letter to parents on Friday saying guidance would be available for pupils on Monday.
“Tyre has been a student of City Garden for many years,” the school said in a statement from its principal and CEO. “He will be greatly missed and our thoughts are with his family and friends during this extremely difficult time.”
No criminal charges have been filed, but a lawsuit for negligence or wrongful death, or both, seems likely. Crump said the boy’s parents “intend to get answers for Tyre’s grieving family.”
“A fun visit to a theme park with his football team shouldn’t have ended in tragedy,” Crump said.