Nikki Fried, Central Florida lawmakers seek changes at small attractions following tragedy

Free Fall Death
'This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is a safety issue.'

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and a pair of Central Florida lawmakers announced Wednesday a legislative draft to add more oversight at the smaller attractions following a teenager’s falling death in Orlando.

Fourteen-year-old Tyre Sampson died March 24 at the Orlando Free Fall at ICON Park. On vacation from St. Louis, Tire slipped through the safety harness on the drop tower ride and died of blunt force trauma.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Ocoee Democrat, called Tyre’s death preventable.

“As soon as we’re back in Tallahassee, I think we need to propose something immediately,” said Bracy, calling for the bill to be named in memory of the teenager.

In a virtual news conference Wednesday, Fried, Bracy and state Rep. Geraldine Thompson highlighted a draft framework for their legislation to require the smaller attractions to disclose changes made to their ride safety system and ride restraints as well as increase the attractions’ reporting requirements for ride maintenance and visitors’ injuries.

They also want to hire more state monitoring employees to make unannounced inspections and verify employees at the smaller attractions are properly trained and retrained.

Fried and the lawmakers also discussed requiring permanent rides to get a third-party review and certification from a national testing laboratory.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” she said. “This is a safety issue.”

Thompson said she wants the smaller attractions to not only post about ride height requirements but also provide the weight requirements. According to media reports, Tyre’s size exceeded the ride’s manufacturer limits, but he was still allowed to get on the ride.

“Even though Tyre was 14 years old, he was over six-feet-tall and over 300 pounds,” the Orlando Democrat said. “We want to make sure that the signage includes everything.”

All these proposed changes would apply only to smaller tourist attractions — not Florida’s biggest theme parks, like Disney World and Universal Orlando.

The issue of ride safety — and the lack of public transparency— has gotten media attention in recent years.

In 2019, a man broke his neck going down on a water slide at Universal’s Volcano Bay water park. At the end of the slide, he was paralyzed, unable to move in the water, until park staff and his family realized something was wrong. The water slide had a history of injuries.

Universal self-reported the man’s injury as “numbness” on the theme park injury report released every quarter by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The only reason the full extent of the man’s injuries became known publicly was that he sued in 2019 and described what happened in his lawsuit. The man eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.

 As it stands, Universal, Disney and the other major theme parks self-report when someone is hurt or sick on a ride and require at least 24 hours of hospitalization. But the theme parks’ self-reporting is often vague or even misleading so it’s unclear what exactly happened.

Fried, whose Agriculture Commissioner term is ending because she is running for Governor, said she is not pushing for new stricter reporting rules from the major theme parks.

Fried called the major parks “a separate matter” compared to the changes she wants at smaller attractions in response to the teenager’s death in Orlando.

To change how the major theme parks self-report visitors’ injuries requires the Legislature to act, Fried stressed at Wednesday’s news conference.

“I think the better question is whether or not the Legislature has the desire or the political will to actually do that,” Fried said.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


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