Kansas water park executives charged with murder in boy’s death

Kansas water park executives charged with murder in boy’s death
Schwab family photo via CNN

Two designers of a massive waterslide in Kansas on which a 10-year-old boy was decapitated face second-degree murder charges in connection with the child’s death, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

The indictment of Jeffrey Henry, who is also a co-owner of the Schlitterbahn water park, and John Schooley brings to three the number of people indicted in the case.

The construction company involved in designing and building the Verruckt ride — the world’s tallest waterslide — was also charged with reckless second-degree murder, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Tyler Austin Miles, the park’s former director of operations, and the water park itself were charged last week with involuntary manslaughter, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.

All five defendants are also charged with aggravated battery and aggravated child endangerment for injuries suffered by 13 others, including four children, on the waterslide before Caleb Schwab was killed in 2016.

A Wyandotte County, Kansas, grand jury handed down the indictments. Miles turned himself in to the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office on Friday. He was released on $50,000 bail.

Henry was arrested Monday, according to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. Schooley is not in custody.

“Jeff Henry has designed waterpark rides the world over,” Schlitterbahn Waterpark said in a statement released Tuesday night. “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,” the statement added. “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.”

The 2016 death

The charges against the three executives and two companies stem from the August 2016 death of Caleb Schwab, who was at the Kansas City park with his family, including his father, Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab.

Verruckt — which means “insane” in German — required two to three riders to be strapped in a raft with a total weight between 400 and 500 pounds. The raft would then “slide down a jaw-dropping 168-foot-7-inch structure, only to be blasted back up a second massive hill and then sent down yet another gut-wrenching 50 foot drop for the ultimate in water slide thrills,” the park’s website said.

The slide was certified by Guinness World Records in May 2014 as the world’s tallest water slide.

Caleb was decapitated when the raft he and two women were strapped into “went airborne and collided with the overhead hoops and netting affixed” to the slide. The two women suffered face injuries and lacerations, according to investigators.

The indictment against Miles notes that although Henry possessed no “technical or engineering credentials” he controlled “many key decisions” in the design of Schlitterbahn rides.

The indictment references video footage in which Henry is giving an interview explaining the danger of the ride, admitting he “could die going down this ride.”

Scott Schwab released a statement Tuesday saying the family has “full faith and trust” in Attorney General Derek Schmidt as it relates to the indictments and investigation.

“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 statement said.

According to CNN affiliate KSHB, Schlitterbahn reached settlement agreements in early 2017 with all parties involved in the tragic accident. The Schwabs will receive nearly $20 million in the settlement. The settlement terms for the two injured women were not made public.

‘Deadly weapon’

According to the indictment, while Caleb’s death “appeared at first to be an isolated and unforeseeable incident,” park employees “came forward and revealed that Schlitterbahn officials had covered up similar incidents in the past” involving the water slide.

The Friday indictment says the park knew about the issues with the ride, including design failures and maintenance issues, and was aware of other injuries sustained by riders prior to Caleb’s death. It details injuries suffered by at least ten other people, ranging from concussions to multiple broken toes.

The raft Caleb was using during the incident was known “for going abnormally fast and going airborne more frequently than other rafts,” the indictment says. It was removed twice in 2016 but quickly put back into circulation, investigators learned, according to the indictment.

Investigators also found multiple flaws in the ride design, noting that “it was never properly or fully designed to prevent rafts from going airborne.”

Verruckt’s design “violated nearly all aspects of the longstanding industry safety standards,” the indictment says, adding “in fact, the design and operation of the Verruckt complied with few, if any, of the industry safety standards.”

In some of the counts of aggravated battery against Miles and the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, the Verruckt waterslide is likened to “a deadly weapon.”

The indictment also says the park and Miles concealed evidence and that Miles knowingly gave false information to a detective.

‘Many of us rode the Verruckt regularly’

In a statement released to CNN after the Friday indictment, Schlitterbahn Waterpark said it plans on contesting the allegations, including the charges that it withheld or altered evidence.

“The safety of our Schlitterbahn guests and employees has been at the forefront of our culture throughout our 40 years of operations,” the statement read. “Many of us rode Verruckt regularly, as did our children and grandchildren. We have faith in the justice system and are confident that when we finally have an opportunity to defend ourselves, it will be clear that this was an accident. We stand by our team and will fight these charges.”

On Monday, attorneys for Tyler Miles said charges alleging their client “avoided or delayed repairs” and “covered up similar incidents” are not true. “Not only had Tyler ridden the slide numerous times, but, as the State is aware, he had scheduled his wife to ride it on the day of the accident. These are not the actions of someone who believed the ride to be dangerous.”

They add that “only after Tyler is able to obtain transcripts, witness statements and police reports will he, like any citizen, be in a position to fully address these allegations. What we know is that Tyler is innocent, which is why he insisted, at his first court appearance, that we set the matter for jury trial. We look forward to the opportunity to challenge the evidence, in a public forum, and prove Tyler’s innocence.”

The park has said it intends to tear down the slide as soon as the investigation is concluded and the park is given permission by the court.