Schlitterbahn Charges Dropped In Kansas Verruckt Water Slide Death
In 2016, 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was decapitated on the Schlitterbahn waterslide in Kansas called Verruckt (German for “crazy”) — when the raft he was riding went airborne and hit a metal pole that supported a netting system meant to keep riders on the slide. Two women who were with him in the raft were seriously injured. After being marketed as the world’s tallest slide, the slide never operated again and has since been torn down.
Last year, Jeff Henry, co-owner of Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts, water slide designer John Schooley, and Schlitterbahn corporate affiliates Henry and Sons Construction general contracting company, were charged with reckless second-degree murder. The park’s operations manager Tyler Miles was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Today, (Feb 22, 2019) a judge dismissed criminal charges against the Kansas water park owner and the designer of the 17-story slide. According to the Kansas City Star — Wyandotte County Judge Robert Burns cited improper evidence in dropping second-degree murder charges against Schlitterbahn owner Jeff Henry, designer John Schooley, and general contractor Henry and Sons Construction Co. The judge also dismissed the involuntary manslaughter charge against operations manager Tyler Miles.
The dismissing of charges primarily stems from the prosecutor’s two main pieces of evidence: a syndicated episode of Xtreme Waterparks and an expert eyewitness in ASTM. When the case was first tried last year, the prosecutor presented the episode to the jury as an accurate representation of the creation of the Verruckt slide. The episode primarily focused on the design of the ride, and one of the most infamous sections of the show consisted of rafts getting flung off the slide. By presenting this as accurate, it represented those being tried as dangerously negligent. In the recent ruling, the judge threw out that evidence as inadmissible, indicating that the show was not an accurate representation of the design process and scripted for entertainment. Defense attorneys argued the video didn’t show how the ride actually worked, but the attorney general’s office never told the jury it was a dramatization, though it showed boats flying up in a similar manner to how Caleb died.
A year before 10-year-old Caleb Schwab died on the water slide, another visitor says his harness snapped off on the ride, leaving him holding on for dear life. Inside Edition ran the below segment about the incident showing pieces of the dramatized show, just a few days after the casualty had happened.
The second major problem was with the prosecutor’s star witness testifying on ASTM standards. The expert testified that there were laws in Kansas requiring corporations to meet ASTM standards, and implied Verruckt did not meet the standards that were required by law. However, Kansas HAD NO LAWS requiring those standards be met at the time of the incident, therefore nullifying the witness’ testimony. The legislature toughened state law involving inspections and requirements after the boy died.
“The court has grave doubts as to whether the irregularities and improprieties improperly influenced the grand jury and ultimately bolstered its decision to indict these defendants,” Judge Robert Burns said. “Quite simply, these defendants were not afforded the due process protections and fundamental fairness Kansas law requires.“
Lawyers also argued the grand jury shouldn’t have heard testimony about another death at a Schlitterbahn park in Texas because it’s not relevant to what happened here. Attorneys questioned why grand jurors were shown a video of Caleb’s death and gruesome photos of the boy’s body. They claimed the only reason for doing so is to improperly influence the grand jury’s decision to indict.
Below was the Schlitterbahn teaser to promote the slide.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a statement saying he respectfully disagrees with the judge’s ruling and that he will be taking “a fresh look at the evidence… to determine the best course forward,” CBS Kansas City affliate KCTV reports.
According to court documents, Caleb’s family received nearly $20 million in settlements in 2017. The two women with Caleb on the raft settled for an undisclosed amount. Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio said in a statement, “We welcome today’s decision which dismissed the charges against all defendants. We are thankful for all the support and encouragement we’ve received.”
Jeff Henry’s defense attorney, Carl Cornwell, told Kansas City’s 41 Action News, the case has caused Wyandotte County tax payers at least one million dollars.
The case is not over as it can be re-filed through a grand jury process or if a judge finds probable cause. It could take weeks if not months until that happens.
Many are wondering why Tyler Miles, the former Director of Operations at the park was being charged. Click Here to read Tyler’s indictment. It is long, but an interesting read to hear the timeline of events that went on with Verruckt.
The Associated Press, Kansas City Star, and CBS-affiliated KCTV, contributed to excerpts in this report.
It’s unfortunate accidents like this that give thrill rides a bad name when it comes to safety. We continue to encourage everyone to still visit and support your local amusement parks. The chance of a fatal injury at a theme park is one in 1.5 billion [Source: CPSC]. By comparison, the chance of fatal injury in a car crash is almost 15 in 10,000 [Source: U.S. Department of Transportation]. You’re about twice as likely to suffer a shark attack as you are to sustain an injury at a theme park requiring a hospital stay. With that said, we still say theme park rides are incredibly safe.
Stay connected with Coaster Nation!
Subscribe to YouTube