Water Park Razing Ride That Caused Gruesome Death of 10-Year-Old
A water park ride which fatally launched a young boy into an overhead support is headed for demolition.
The 17-story-tall Verrückt (German for “insane”) waterslide at Kansas City’s Schlitterbahn Water Park was scheduled for demolition as soon as the criminal investigation into the fatal accident was completed.
Investigators have completed their examination and indictments have been handed down.
Fox News reports that the slide will be disassembled after Labor Day, the last day of the park’s 2018 season. The process will take about three weeks.
The Verrückt waterslide was certified as the world’s tallest by The Guinness Book of World Records in April 2014, ahead of its scheduled Memorial Day opening. That opening was delayed due to safety concerns.
“We had many issues on the engineering side,” Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, who co-designed the ride with John Schooley, told USA Today.
“Our correction coefficients were all off. Models didn’t show air and water friction. 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.”
The slide, 168 feet tall and 607 feet long, had a tendency to launch rafts into the air. The ride was redesigned repeatedly in attempts to keep the rafts on the waterslide. Henry claimed the ride was safe shortly before it opened on July 10, 2014.
“It’s dangerous, but it’s a safe dangerous now,” he told USA Today.
“Schlitterbahn is a family water park, but this isn’t a family ride. It’s for the thrill seekers of the world, people into extreme adventure.”
Deadly Design Flaws
Ten-year-old Caleb Schwab was killed on August 7, 2016, when the raft he was riding flew into the air and struck some overhead fencing. The two other passengers in the raft, sisters Hannah Barnes and Matraca Baetz, both suffered serious facial injuries, the Mirror reported.
The overhead fencing was added to keep rafts from flying off the slide.
Besides the design causing rafts to fly off the slide, there were other safety issues.
Park guest Jessica Lundquist told KSHB, “A lady in front of me said that multiple times she rode the ride today, the Verrückt, and that the front harness did not work any of the times that she rode it.”
— FOX 4 News (@fox4kc) November 22, 2016
Esteban Castaneda had ridden the slide earlier that day with his cousin’s 14-year-old daughter. Castaneda told ABC News, that the 14-year old complained that her safety belt came undone toward the end of the ride.
Kelsey Friedrichsen and her boyfriend, Josh Foster, were climbing the 264 steps to the Verrückt launch platform when the accident took place.
“There was a woman being treated for some kind of injury on her face and head,” Friedrichsen, 27, from Kansas City, Kansas, told People.com.
“That was when my boyfriend said, ‘I think there is someone else.’”
“It looked like he must have somehow been ejected from his seat, bounced around between the netting and the slide and just slid down,” Friedrichsen continued. “He would have fallen down without the raft. It’s kind of like a tube.”
Hopes to Prevent Another Tragedy
Schlitterbahn closed Verrückt immediately and closed the whole water park for two days.
Caleb’s father, Scott Schwab, is the state representative for Kansas’ 49th district.
“While we try to step forward into the new normal life without Caleb in our presence, we find hope with the current investigation into the incident to provide answers and assurances that such a tragedy would not strike again,” he said in a statement after the accident.
The two sisters who were riding in the raft with Caleb said in a statement, “Being mothers ourselves, we can only hope that Caleb’s family can find some comfort in knowing we are doing everything we know how to do to stop something so tragic from occurring again to any other family,” the Mirror reported.
Verrückt was not the only questionable attraction at Schlitterbahn’s Kansas City park. (Schlitterbahn operates parks and resorts at Galveston Island, Texas, Kansas City, Kansas, New Braunfels, Texas, South Padre Island, Texas, and Corpus Christi, Texas.)
When the 2018 season opened on May 25, 11 rides stayed silent—they’d failed to pass state inspections. On July 10, four rides were still uncertified and closed for business.
The State safety audit found 160 violations. Most were technical issues; however, inspectors found that some parts on the Soaring Eagle Zipline ride had outlasted their service life and were a year overdue for replacement, the Kansas City Star reported.
Four of the 11 rides—Soaring Eagle, Boogie Bahn, Whirlpool, and Wolfpack—were still closed on July 10, according to the Star.
Indictments and Arrest
On March 23, 2018, A Wyandotte County Grand Jury handed down indictments of the Schlitterbahn park and Tyler Austin Miles, its ex-operations director, on 20 felony charges including involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery, and reckless endangerment, for allegedly causing Caleb’s death.
Jeffery Henry, park co-owner and co-designer of the Verrückt waterslide, was arrested on March 26 and charged with murder, aggravated battery, and aggravated child endangerment, Newsweek reported.
The indictment specified that “Experts in the field of amusement park ride design … noted that Verrückt’s design violated nearly every aspect of the longstanding industry safety standards published by ASTM” (American Society of Testing and Materials.)
— The Kansas City Star (@KCStar) March 23, 2018
Also according to the indictment, “Schlitterbahn officials covered up similar incidents in the past.”
The indictment reveals that Verrückt’s design and construction were rushed so that the ride could be ready for the 2016 season.
Safety standards in construction and operation were ignored. Many people involved in different aspects of supplying parts and materials and building the slide protested, but the park pressed forward.
Worst of all, the people in charge of design and construction, Jeff Henry and John Schooley, knew that rafts tended to fly off the track. They made several changes to the slide to stop this, but none were effective.
The park management opted to open the ride to the public knowing that rafts might get airborne and that a raft’s occupants were at risk.