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'A terrible tragedy': Teen killed on Orlando ride was from St. Louis area

Tyre Sampson's most recent football coach said he lived in St. Louis County and was set to attend East St. Louis High School in the fall.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The 14-year-old boy who fell to his death from a free-fall amusement park ride in Florida was from St. Louis County, according to his most recent football coach.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office on Friday identified him as Tyre Sampson. 

Sampson fell from a ride taller than the Statue of Liberty along a busy street in the heart of Orlando's tourist district. 

"We can't imagine the pain and anguish that his family must be going through," said Sheriff John Mina, adding that victim advocates were in contact with the family.

Sampson was visiting from his home in Missouri with another family, officials said.

5 On Your Side spoke to Arnaud Jones, who said he recently coached Sampson in football. The eighth-grader was participating in "Bad Boyz," a nationally ranked youth program based out of St. Louis. 

"He was very mild-mannered, light spoken. 'Yes, sir. Yes, ma'am,' to everything. Honor roll student. All A's. I never had any problems out of him," Jones described. "He would respect and take in what I’m giving him, and I knew he had a bright future because he was just a great kid.”

Credit: Yarnell Sampson

According to Jones, Sampson lived in St. Louis County and was scheduled to attend East St. Louis High School in the fall.

Detectives investigating the death will look into whether it was intentional or accidental, the sheriff said. Based on what police have learned so far, "it appears to be a terrible tragedy," Mina said. The investigation is still open.

Sheriff's officials and emergency crews responded to a call late Thursday at Icon Park, which is located in the city's tourist district along International Drive. Sampson fell from the Orlando Free Fall ride, which opened late last year.

He was taken to a hospital, where he died, sheriff's officials said. No additional details about the incident were immediately released.

A video aired by NBC's “Today" show Friday morning appears to show passengers on the ride discussing issues with a seat restraint Thursday night. The ride then began its trek up the tower before someone is later seen falling from the ride.

Mina mentioned that the sheriff's office had gotten the video flagged.

"Something that awful shouldn't be out there in the public," he said.

“We are absolutely saddened and devastated by what happened, and our hearts go out this young man's family,” John Stine, sales director with the Slingshot Group which owns the ride, told the Associated Press.

Credit: Yarnell Sampson

The Free Fall ride and an adjacent ride, the Sling Shot, have been closed indefinitely, Stine said. His company operates the two rides at Icon Park.

“We are cooperating with all other investigations at this time to get to the bottom of what happened,” Stine said.

Stine said there had been no issues reported previously with the Free Fall ride, which opened over the holidays.

Employees and witnesses who were interviewed by detectives told them that everything appeared to be normal.

“Everything seemed to be OK and normal," Mina said.

The Florida Department of Agriculture, which oversees amusement ride inspections with the exception of the state's largest theme parks, has launched an investigation and inspectors were at the site Friday, spokesperson Caroline Stoneciper said in an email.

Credit: AP
The Orlando FreeFall ride is shown at ICON Park in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, March 24, 2022. (Stephen M. Dowell /Orlando Sentinel via AP)

The ride stands 430-feet tall and is billed as the world's tallest free-standing drop tower, according to the park's website.

The ride holds 30 passengers as it rises in the air, rotates around the tower and then tilts to face the ground before free falling at more than 75 mph, the website said.

The ride has an over-the-shoulder restraint harness, with two hand grips at the chest level, that goes over the rider automatically.

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