The father of the 14-year-old boy who died last month on a Florida amusement park ride told TODAY in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that he is hoping legal action can create change in the industry so no other family has to feel his heartbreak.
The family of Tyre Sampson, who died on March 24 on the Free Fall ride at Orlando’s ICON Park, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Monday that targets the park as well as the owner of the Free Fall and the Austrian manufacturer of the ride.
Yarnell Sampson spoke with NBC News correspondent Sam Brock on TODAY Tuesday about the loss of his son, who was a budding football standout and an honors student in their home state of Missouri.
"He could have been a doctor, lawyer, astronaut, anything besides being an athlete," Sampson said. "That was just one part of his life.
"So I just want America to know that as a father and son, mother, we both dealing with this day-by-day, second-by-second, minute-by-minute, to be honest with you. The best thing to do is to get the ball moving towards the right direction. We can make change together.”
Sampson slipped through a gap between the harness and the seat on the ride and fell to his death after the operator allegedly changed sensors on a pair of seats that left Sampson "not properly secured," according to a report released on April 18 by an independent engineering firm hired by the state.
“During slowing of the ride Tyre Sampson slipped through the gap between the seat and harness, which may have expanded several inches due to inherent seat and harness compliance,” the report said. “The cause of the subject accident was that Tyre Sampson was not properly secured in the seat primarily due to mis-adjustment of the harness proximity sensor.”
The ride drops nearly 400 feet at speeds up to 75 miles an hour. Sampson weighed about 380 pounds, according to his family, which is close to 100 pounds above the stated weight limit for the ride.
The lawsuit claims the ride operator “negligently adjusted restraint systems on the Free Fall ride, failed to train their employees, and failed to provide a safe amusement park ride."
“Think about the millions of children that go to amusement parks every day in the world. Nobody would ever dream this happened to their child," the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, said. "And that’s what we want Tyre’s legacy to be that it will not happen again.”
ICON Park declined to comment to NBC News about the lawsuit. No representative of Funtime Handels GMBH and Gerstlauer Amusement Rides GMBH, the Austrian company which designed and manufactured the ride, could be reached for comment.
An attorney for Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot LLC, which owns the Free Fall, gave a statement to NBC News.
"Orlando Slingshot continues to fully cooperate with the state during its investigation, and we will continue to do so until it has officially concluded. We reiterate that all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided by the manufacturer of the ride were followed."
The Sampson family told Brock the lawsuit is asking for multiple millions in damages for loss of life, pain and suffering, and loss of future earnings.
Yarnell fought back tears as he reflected on a son he said was taken away "too soon."
"When you kiss your child and tell them you love them ... I don’t have that choice," he said. "Or the chance no more to say that."