UPDATE: According to The Washington Post, Schlitterbahn Waterpark and former director of operations, Tyler Austin Miles, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and several counts of aggravated battery, aggravated endangering a child, and interference with law enforcement in connection to the death of Caleb Schwab involving the water coaster, Verrückt.
It appears that Schlitterbahn Waterpark was eager to open the ride to the public despite clear signs of safety hazards. Jeffrey Henry, co-owner of the park, and John Schooley, the lead designer of the ride, have been charged with second-degree murder and face charges of aggravated endangerment of a child and aggravated battery. According to the Huffington Post, the lawsuit (filed at Wyandotte County District Court in Kansas City) states, “Due to Henry and Schooley’s lack of expertise and a desire to rush the timeline, they skipped fundamental steps in the design process.” The lawsuit continues, “In place of mathematical and physics calculations, they rushed forward relying almost entirely on crude trial-and-error methods.”
Allegations are surfacing that multiple neck and head injuries were reported to the park before Caleb’s death, only to be hidden from law enforcement investigating the fatal incident. According to the lawsuit, Verrückt’s design “violated nearly all aspects of ... longstanding industry safety standards.”
Kansascity.com reported last year that the Schwab family has received a $20 million settlement from the companies involved in Caleb’s death.
AUGUST 9, 2016 REPORT: It's called "the world's tallest water slide," and it reaches higher than the Statue of Liberty and Niagara Falls. It features a 168-foot plummet, during which riders in three-person rafts travel as fast as 45 miles per hour. And now, the Verrückt water slide at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kansas, is the site of a horrible accident, in which 10-year-old Caleb Schwab died Sunday.
According to People magazine, police have confirmed the child suffered a neck injury and was decapitated. It's too awful to even imagine, but now his parents, State Representative Scott Schwab and his wife Michele, are mourning the loss of their young son.
A witness named Kelsey Friedrichsen recalls, "It looked like he must have somehow been ejected from his seat, bounced around between the netting and the slide and just slid down. He would have fallen down without the raft."
Someone else who had ridden the Verrückt (which is named after the German word for "insane") earlier that day claims the Velcro on her seat belt came undone toward the end of the experience. People also reports the two women riding with Caleb, who were not related to him, suffered minor facial injuries. North Dakota news site MyNDNow.com reports the boy's parents were with him at the park that day.
It's important to point out that before riders (who must be at least 54 inches tall) board the raft, a park employee reads them a two-page safety warning. The slide is also inspected daily. And although the Schlitterbahn Water Park is for families, this ride in particular is meant to attract so-called "thrill-seekers."
But how can a ride this extreme be safe for anyone? It turns out at first, it definitely wasn't. Jeff Henry, Verrückt creator and Schlitterbahn co-owner, told USA Today about the several delays in opening the slide in 2014: "We had many issues on the engineering side. A lot of our math was based on roller coasters at first, and that didn't translate to a water slide like this. No one had ever done anything like this before."
Maybe there's a reason for that.
In fact, even Henry told USA Today upon riding the Verrückt, "I'm still recovering mentally. It's like jumping off the Empire State Building. It's the scariest thing I've done."
At this time, we don't know the circumstances that led to Caleb riding this extreme slide. Had he begged his parents for weeks? Had he done it before, and alone? Did he enjoy extreme rides? Had either of the parents ridden the slide before? Many questions are, for now, left unanswered.
But no matter the reason Caleb ultimately boarded the raft, no one in their worst nightmare would imagine a trip to an amusement park ending this way.
Still, if other recent tragedies are any indication, some people will undoubtedly judge his parents for allowing Caleb to ride this attraction. I'd urge them not to. Instead, let's focus our efforts on thinking through all the ways to stay safe at amusement parks, in an effort to prevent anyone else from getting injured or worse in a place that is meant to inspire fun. And, please, hug your kids just a little tighter today. I know I will.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.