'I Can Ride,' Teen Exclaimed Moments Before Death

Cousin Shay Johnson recalls her last conversation with Tyre Sampson
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2022 11:27 AM CDT
Cousin: Teen Was Turned Away From 2 Rides Before Fatal Fall
Shay Johnson receives a hug at a memorial site outside the Orlando Free Fall drop tower ride at ICON Park in Orlando on Tuesday.   (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Tyre Sampson was turned away from rides during his visit to Orlando's ICON Park, just not the one that killed him. That's according to his cousin, Shay Johnson, who dropped off the 14-year-old at the amusement park on Thursday. She tells Spectrum News 13 that he wanted to ride the 450-foot-tall StarFlyer swing ride but called her within minutes to say he had been turned away. "They said I'm too big. I can't ride," the teen reportedly said. Johnson says she told him to try the SlingShot, touted as the world's tallest slingshot ride, which sends riders 450 feet into the air at speeds of up to 100mph. She says he was again told he was too large.

He decided to try one final ride: the FreeFall, which drops riders nearly 400 feet at speeds of more than 75mph. "He called me, he say, 'They let me ride. I can ride. I can ride,'" Johnson added Monday from a vigil at the park. "I didn't know it would be my last time talking to him alive." Tyre fell out of his seat as the circular vehicle descended. Both the Slingshot and the FreeFall are operated by Slingshot Group, which on Tuesday answered ICON Park's call to suspend operations of both rides "until such time as a thorough investigation by the appropriate authorities has been completed and all parties are satisfied that the rides are safe for the public."

CNN has reached out to Slingshot Group for comment on why Tyre was turned away from the Slingshot but not the FreeFall, whose manual gives a maximum weight limit of 287 pounds per rider. Tyre reportedly weighed 340 pounds. Bill Kitchen, the inventor of the FreeFall who also attended Monday's memorial, tells News 13 that had the manufacturer added a safety strap, it would have prevented Tyre's death. In a letter attached to the ride's manual, Hannes Lackner, the general manager of manufacturer Funtime Thrill Rides, wrote that there is "no need for an extra safety or seat belt because the seat and restrain system fulfill more than the requirements," WKMG reports. (More Florida stories.)

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