ST. LOUIS – The parents of a St. Louis teen who fell to his death from a drop-tower ride at a Florida amusement park last month said they filed a wrongful death lawsuit and will take the matter to trial to ensure no family has to experience this anguish and pain ever again. They held separate press conferences in Florida and Missouri.

Attorneys for Tyre Sampson’s mother and father filed the 65-page wrongful death and product liability lawsuit against the amusement park, as well as the ride manufacturer and company that staffed the attraction. Sampson’s mother, Nekia Dodd, said her son’s death could have been prevented with better safety protocols and restrictions.

“I don’t wish that on any parent,” Dodd said.

Sampson, 14, visited Icon Park in Orlando on March 24 with another family over spring break when he fell off the free-fall drop tower ride. Last week, authorities said Tyre was improperly secured in his harness on the ride, leading to the deadly fall.

Tyre attended City Garden Montessori School in St. Louis, was a lineman in the Badboyz Youth Football program, and had planned to play football this fall for East St. Louis High School.

The lawsuit alleges ride operators failed to safely operate the ride and warn Tyre of the proper height and weight safety restrictions. Attorney Michael Haggard said the manufacturer’s manual prohibits riders over 287 pounds. The suit also claims the operators failed to properly train employees. Tyre was about 6-foot-2-inches, and weighed approximately 380 pounds.

“Nobody weighed him. There were no signs, anything like that. So it was just a series of awful mistakes. At any point in time in that timeline, if someone would have been reasonable and done the right thing, this tragedy would have never occurred,” Haggard said.

A report from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services revealed that the ride operator made manual adjustments to the ride, resulting in it being unsafe.

“They designed one of the most dangerous rides in the world — 430 feet high, traveling 75 miles per hour. At the top, a rare design is to tip riders to a 30-degree angle and have them face the ground, then 75 miles to an abrupt stop,” the report reads. “What they knew and they failed to tell anyone about is that the secondary restraint system should be in place.”

Attorney Michael Haggard and Nekia Dodd
Attorney Michael Haggard and Nekia Dodd.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Haggard said a $22 seatbelt would have saved Sampson’s life. The total cost of properly securing all seats on the ride would be around $660.

The attorney for the ride operator has said that they followed all safety measures provided by the manufacturer.

Haggard said in many cases of this nature, companies will pay out a quick settlement in order to avoid long-term negative publicity and move along. However, Haggard said Sampson’s parents opted to file this suit and take things to trial to ensure something like this never happens again.

Dodd said the last month has been an “extended nightmare” and that she’s experienced a slew of emotions.

“It’s disgusting,” she said after being asked about the low cost of installing seatbelts on the ride. “It’s disgusting. So it’s like, you didn’t want to miss a dollar, but you stripped me of my son. So, yeah, it’s disgusting.”

Yarnell Sampson

Yarnell Sampson appeared with lawyer Benjamin Crump at the scene of the accident in Florida Tuesday afternoon. He spoke during another press conference about the wrongful lawsuit he is filing with the child’s mother.

The first time Yarnell saw his son in person was at his funeral. He found out about the death online. Someone showed him the video and he thought it was horrible. Then he found out that the person in the video was his son.

“It is senseless that a child had to lose his life trying to have fun. Plain and simple,” said Yarnell. “We both want change for our child. We want this company to be held accountable for its actions. No profits over safety. It should be safety over profit.”

Yarnell said that the publicity over the death has made his life worse. He is dealing with his son’s death and the national reaction it.