Designer of 17-story Schlitterbahn water slide arrested in boy’s death

Caleb Thomas Schwab, 10, died while riding the world's tallest water slide -- the Verrückt -- in Kansas City's Schlitterbahn water park. Police on Monday said Caleb died from a neck injury. Photo courtesy of Schlitterbahn

April 3 (UPI) — The designer of a 17-story water slide is the third person to be charged in a 10-year-old boy’s 2016 death at Kansas Schlitterbahn Waterpark.

John Schooley, 72, of New Braunfels, Texas, was arrested Monday night at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. He is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab, who died in 2016 while riding the Verruckt slide in Kansas City, Kan. At more than 168 feet high, it was billed as the world’s tallest water slide.

Schooley was arrested by U.S. marshals after arriving on a flight from China.

Caleb, the son of state Rep. Scott Schwab, was decapitated after the raft he was riding went airborne and hit an overhead loop. The Schwab family was at the park on a day when admission was free for state legislators and their families.

Although the boy’s death was first treated as an accident, whistle-blowershave since reported problems with the park.

Jeff Henry, a co-owner of the water park, was arrested last week on charges of second-degree murder, aggravated battery and aggravated endangerment of a child.

A grand jury earlier indicted the park’s former director of operations, Tyler Miles, and the park itself in the boy’s death.

The grand jury accused Miles and other executives of ignoring design flaws and industry safety standards during the slide’s construction. His indictment described improper behavior from Henry and Schooley.

“Verruckt suffered from a long list of dangerous design flaws; however, the most obvious and potentially lethal flaw was that Verruckt’s design guaranteed that rafts would occasionally go airborne in a manner that could severely injure or kill the occupants,” the indictment read. “Henry, Schooley and Miles all knew about this problem before the ride opened to the public.”

Schlitterbahn, which also operates four water parks in Texas, has vowed to fight the charges.

“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,” the park said in a statement.

According to the court documents, Henry’s decision to build the world’s tallest water slide was to impress the producers of a Travel Channel show. The “rushed project and lack of expertise” resulted in the company skipping “fundamental steps in the design process.”

“Not a single engineer was directly involved in Verruckt’s dynamic engineering or slide path design,” according to the indictment, which also said that after news reports about airborne rafts during testing, Henry and his designer began “secretly testing at night to avoid scrutiny.”

During the ride’s 182 days in operation, 13 injuries were reported, including two concussions. In one of those cases, a 15-year-old girl went temporarily blind, according to the indictment.


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