News & Politics

Kansas AG Charges Water Park Owner and Slide Designer with 2nd Degree Murder in Boy's 2016 Death

The "Verruckt" water slide at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

The Kansas attorney general’s office is aggressively prosecuting the company that rushed the world’s tallest waterslide into service with a shoddy design that led to the horrendous decapitation death of a 10-year-old boy in 2016.

The water park’s co-owner and a designer were charged with 2nd degree murder on Tuesday in the death of Caleb Schwab, the son of Kansas Republican state Rep. Scott Schwab. Caleb died on the 17-story Verruckt waterslide when his raft went airborne and hit an overhead loop. Two other women were in the raft with him when the raft went airborne, one of them suffering a broken jaw and the other breaking a bone in her face, according to Fox News.

Three men connected with Texas-based Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts and its park in Kansas City, Kansas, along with the park itself and the construction company that built the ride have now all been indicted by the Kansas AG.

Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeffrey Henry, 62, designer John Schooley, and Henry & Sons Construction Company, Inc. were charged with reckless second-degree murder in addition to 17 other felonies, including aggravated battery and aggravated child endangerment stemming from others who rode the Verruckt at the Kansas City, Kansas, waterpark. Schooley reportedly played a key role in designing Verruckt, which means “insane” in German.

The indictment alleges that Henry made a “spur of the moment” decision to build the ride, and that “he and Schooley lacked technical or engineering expertise in amusement park rides.”

The men are facing a sentence of 9 years to 41 years in prison.

Last week, the attorney general’s office charged the park operations manager at the time of the incident, Tyler Miles, with involuntary manslaughter in connection to Schwab’s death. The 29-year-old is facing 19 other charges, “including 12 charges of aggravated battery, five child endangerment charges, and two charges of interference with law enforcement.”

Miles pleaded not guilty in a court hearing in Wyandotte County on Friday.

According to the indictments, Henry decided in 2012 to build the world’s tallest water slide to impress the producers of a Travel Channel show. Henry’s desire to “rush the project” and a lack of expertise caused the company to “skip fundamental steps in the design process.”

The indictment said, “not a single engineer was directly involved in Verruckt’s dynamic engineering or slide path design.” The indictment said that in 2014, when there were news reports emerging about airborne rafts, a company spokesperson “discredited” them and Henry and his designer began “secretly testing at night to avoid scrutiny.”

The indictment listed 13 injuries during the 182 days the ride was in operation, including two concussions. In one of those cases, a 15-year-old girl went temporarily blind while riding.

The Schwab family has already reached settlements of nearly $20 million with Schlitterbahn and the other companies associated with the design and construction of the waterslide. The two women who were injured on the same raft with Caleb settled claims with Schlitterbahn for an undisclosed amount.

“Clearly the issues with Schlitterbahn go far beyond Caleb’s incident, and we know the attorney general will take appropriate steps in the interest of public safety,” the family said in a statement released Monday.

U.S. marshals in Cameron County, Texas, took Henry into custody Monday, pending extradition to Kansas.

According to the attorney general’s office, Schooley is currently outside of the country. U.S. officials are reportedly in talks with the foreign government to get him extradited back to the United States.

The company released the following statement on Monday:

This indictment, as in the previous one related to Tyler Miles, is wrought with references to the outtakes of a dramatic, scripted television show, and filled with information that we fully dispute. Jeff Henry has designed waterpark rides the world over. Nearly every waterpark that exists today has an attraction or feature based on his designs or ideas.

The incident that happened that day was a terrible and tragic accident. We mourn the loss of this child and are devastated for his family. We know that Tyler, Jeff, and John are innocent and that we run a safe operation – our 40 years of entertaining millions of people speaks to that.

We are confident that their innocence will be proven in court where we know the facts will show this was an accident.

A Kansas City criminal attorney told 41 Action News that the level of negligence is key in determining whether or not to pursue criminal charges against a company.