‘I could not ask for a better son’; Metro East father speaks after son dies at Florida amusement park

St. Louis teen killed on amusement park ride in Orlando
St. Louis teen killed on amusement park ride in Orlando
Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 11:29 PM EDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Heartbreak and confusion is settling in for a Metro East father, after learning his teenage son died after falling from an amusement park ride in Florida.

“Where do I go from here,” said Yarnell Sampson in tears.

14-year-old Tyre Sampson, of Berkeley, died Thursday night after falling off of a free-fall amusement park ride at Icon Plaza in Orlando, Florida. The incident happened just before 11 p.m. A viral video has since surfaced of the tragedy, which has quickly sparked national attention.

“My son was a fighter. And he fought all the way till the end,” said Yarnell. “And I just wish it never happened,”

Yarnell Sampson spoke with News 4 on Friday following the news of his son’s death. Yarnell says Tyre was an 8th-grade student at City Montessori School in South City. Sampson, who lives in Venice with Tyre’s stepmom, says Tyre lived with his mother in Berkeley.

“He was a big teddy bear, a gentle giant. He was a good young man,” said Yarnell. “He had a bright future, honor roll student. ‘Yes sir, yes ma’am’ type of kid.”

Tyre planned to attend East St. Louis High School in the fall, but his father also says he was considering the possibility of going to Cardinal Ritter. Wherever he would end up choosing, Yarnell says there was no doubt in his mind Tyre would eventually pursue his dream of playing pro football with the hopes of one day giving back to his family.

“He was 6′5″, 325 at 14 years old, playing left tackle, so that’s a prime position. Plus, he had an NFL mentor, so he was definitely on the right path,” said Yarnell. “And I was going to put him in a blue-chip camp myself this summer.”

“Big Tick” was his nickname among family, friends, and teammates.

“He was the next big ticket. He was the next big thing out [of] the Lou,” said Yarnell, “He was a promising young man, I could not ask for a better son.”

Yarnell says Tyre was in Florida training with teammates and coaches through the STL Bad Boyz Football Program, a Nationally Ranked youth program based out of St. Louis.

“It also was like a reward for the St. Louis bad boys having a good football team,” said Sampson. “They almost won nationals, so that was like a reward for them to get a little getaway trip.”

Yarnell says he did not find out until this morning his son died from falling off an amusement park ride until after watching the viral video. He says he has only seen it once and refuses to watch it again.

“That young man [doesn’t] deserve that. He was having fun with his friends,” said Yarnell.

Yarnell is not only heartbroken, but he is also upset he was not there to protect his son.

“Somebody has a few answers they need to answer because I definitely got some questions,” said Yarnell.

He says he wants to know what happened leading up to the fall.

“Why was he not properly put in the seating thing right,” said Yarnell. “Maybe he was too big to get on that ride, or maybe they weren’t doing their job.”

As investigators start looking into the theme park ride Tyre got on, Yarnell hopes someone is held accountable.

“They could’ve stopped the roller coaster at the top,” he said. “They could’ve had somebody, EMT paramedics, the fire department could’ve rescued him. They didn’t have to let the young man fall.”

In the meantime, his family and friends are focused on keeping Tyre’s memory alive and ensuring his death prevents similar tragedies moving forward.

“Only thing I know is my son is in Orlando, Florida right now and I want him home,” said Sampson. “And we’re going to figure that out, me and my son’s mother, and we’re going to go from there.”

Yarnell added, “Maybe nobody else in the future will have this interview, have to bury their child.”

The City Garden Montessori School shared with News 4 the message that was emailed out to school families following the tragedy. It read in part, “Tyre was well known to our students and our staff, and we are prepared to support them as we all attempt to process this tragedy.” The school also wrote that counselors will be on hand when students return from Spring Break on Monday.

The school also said they are making plans to honor and memorialize Tyre. They are currently collecting donations for the boy’s family through Venmo (@CityGardenSchool), CashApp ($CityGardenSchool) and online here.