After 10-Year-Old Boy's Decapitation on Waterslide, Park Designers Are Charged With Murder
Ten-year-old Caleb Schwab was killed in 2016 while riding the Verrückt at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas
More charges have been filed in connection with the 2016 waterslide death of a 10-year-old boy at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas, PEOPLE confirms.
A Wyandotte County grand jury indicted the following on charges of reckless second-degree murder: Jeffrey Wayne Henry, a co-owner of Schlitterbahn Companies and a designer of the waterslide; John Timothy Schooley, also a designer of the slide; and Henry & Sons Construction Company, Inc., the corporation involved in the slide’s construction.
Henry was arrested Monday in Texas and is being held without bond. His next court date is scheduled for Thursday. Schooley is not in custody.
The three defendants were additionally indicted on counts of aggravated battery and aggravated endangering a child in connection with 13 other people who authorities say were injured while riding Schlitterbahn’s 17-story Verrückt waterslide.
The Verrückt (German for “crazy” or “insane”) was named the world’s tallest waterslide by Guinness World Records in 2014. Rafts riding down it allegedly hit speeds of up to 70 mph.
Caleb Schwab, the son of Kansas lawmaker Scott Schwab, was decapitated on Aug. 7, 2016, when the raft he was on riding down the Verrückt went airborne and collided with the overhead netting and metal hoops, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE.
Caleb was with his family at the park during an event for elected officials.
Last week, Schlitterbahn Waterpark as well as the park’s former director of operations Tyler Austin Miles were indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter.
In addition, Miles was indicted on two counts of interference with law enforcement. Schlitterbahn — which, like Miles, has strongly denied wrongdoing — was also charged with one count of interference with law enforcement.
According to the latest indictment, which was filed Wednesday and unsealed Tuesday, video footage showed that Caleb was obeying all rider instructions at the time of his death. Two adult women riding with him in the raft were also injured.
“While we as a family continue to mourn and heal from Caleb’s passing, we wanted to again thank the community of Kansas City for its continued prayers and support,” Caleb’s father said in a statement to PEOPLE about the indictments of Miles and Schlitterbahn.
“While we have no control over the investigation, we have full faith and trust in Attorney General Derek Schmidt and his office as relates to last week’s indictments, as well as any other decisions that office may make going forward,” the statement continued. “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.”
‘Long List of Dangerous Design Flaws’
While Schlitterbahn has described Caleb’s death as “an unforeseeable accident,” the latest indictment alleges that the slide’s rafts had problems from the beginning and suffered from a “long list of dangerous design flaws” including that they traveled too fast and repeatedly went airborne.
Despite this, Henry, a high school drop-out, allegedly rushed the slide into operation and “skipped fundamental steps in the design process,” the indictment states.
“Experts in the field of amusement ride design and safety examined Verrückt and found physical evidence which indicated that other rafts had gone airborne and collided with the overhead hoops and netting before the fatality,” according to the indictment.
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These experts also noted that the raft “violated nearly all aspects of the longstanding industry safety standards,” the indictment states.
The idea to build the waterslide allegedly came in 2012 in a “spur-of-the-moment bid” to impress producers of the Travel Channel’s Xtreme Waterparks series, according to the indictment. Another motivation for Henry was allegedly to “flaunt his achievements in the faces of the other waterpark owners.”
“Henry compared the construction of Verrückt to an arms race against rival waterparks,” the indictment states.
The indictment further claims that both Henry and Schooley lacked the technical expertise and engineering credentials necessary to properly design the “complex” attraction.
“In place of mathematical and physics calculations, they rushed forward relying almost entirely on crude trial-and-error methods,” the indictment alleges.
The Verrückt underwent a massive redesign in 2014 to fix the airborne issue, but the problem persisted, the indictment states.
Court documents show that one week before the ride’s grand opening in 2014, Henry & Sons hired an engineering firm to perform accelerometer testing of the rafts going down Verrückt — and the testing determined that rafts weighing 400 to 550 lbs. “would likely” go airborne at the crest of the ride’s second hill.
Henry and Schooley “had knowledge that rafts were still going airborne in the days before Verrückt’s grand opening to the public,” the indictment contends, noting other alleged design issues with the slide that proved dangerous, including an improperly designed concrete wall at the end.
As indicated by these warning signs, rider injuries began to pile up immediately:
In one instance, according to the indictment, a 15-year-old girl’s head was slammed sideways against her headrest, which caused her to temporarily go blind. In a second injury, a 14-year-old “suffered head and neck injuries,” including a concussion, when her raft “decelerated too rapidly, throwing [her] head forward.” In a third incident, a 17-year-old girl received a gash across her eyebrow after the force of the ride caused her to slam her head into her knees.
That injury was initially thought of as an “isolated and unforeseeable incident,” according to the indictment, until whistleblowers from Schlitterbahn revealed that park officials had allegedly covered up as many as 13 incidents in the past.
The Accused Respond
An investigation after Caleb’s death uncovered evidence — including corporate emails and eyewitness statements — that found his death “and the rapidly growing list of injuries were foreseeable and expected outcomes,” according to the indictment, directly contradicting the latest defense put forth by Schlitterbahn.
Winter D. Prosapio, a spokeswoman for the company, told PEOPLE in a statement earlier this week that the company was “shocked” by the allegations against Miles, who has since pleaded not guilty, and the Kansas City park itself.
“The allegation that we operated, and failed to maintain, a ride that could foreseeably cause such a tragic accident is beyond the pale of speculation,” she said. “Many of us, and our children and grandchildren, have ridden the ride with complete confidence as to its safety. Our operational mantra has been and will forever be Safety First …We have operated with integrity from day one at the waterpark — as we do throughout our waterparks and resorts. We put our guests and employees safety first, and safety and maintenance are at the top of our list of priorities.”
“We as a company and as a family will fight these allegations and have confidence that once the facts are presented it will be clear that what happened on the ride was an unforeseeable accident,” Prosapio said.
She pushed back strongly against the argument advanced by prosecutors in the recent indictments.
“During the civil matter, attorneys involved noted that we cooperated fully, provided thousands of documents, and that nothing was withheld or tampered with,” she said in a statement to PEOPLE. “The secret Grand Jury never heard one word from us directly, nor were we allowed to provide contradictory evidence. And we have plenty.”
Miles’ attorneys, Tom and Tricia Bath, also argued that law enforcement’s assertion that Caleb’s death was “foreseeable to Tyler Mills” was 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,” the Baths said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. “These are not the actions of someone who believed the ride to be dangerous.”
According to the Associated Press, Caleb’s family has reached a nearly $20 million settlement with Schlitterbahn and affiliated companies.
The waterpark company did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment about the latest indictment.
It was unclear Tuesday if the additional indicted parties had pleaded to their charges, and their attorneys could not be reached. Reached by phone, Schooley’s wife declined to comment. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.