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Indictment calls waterslide where boy was killed a 'deadly weapon'

The ride at a Kansas water park had already injured more than a dozen people before a 10-year-old boy was decapitated in 2016, the indictment says.
Image: Riders go down the world's tallest water slide called \"Verruckt\"
Riders go down the world's tallest waterslide. called Verruckt, at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas, in July 2014. Charlie Riedel / AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas waterslide hyped as the world’s highest was a “deadly weapon” that had already injured more than a dozen people before a 10-year-old boy was decapitated on it in 2016, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Friday that charges the water park operator and an executive with involuntary manslaughter.

Operators of the Verruckt waterslide at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas, also knew that the raft Caleb Schwab and two women used during the deadly accident was prone to go faster and become airborne more than others. It was removed twice in 2016 but quickly put back into circulation, the indictment says.

“The ride was never properly or fully designed to prevent rafts from going airborne,” the indictment said.

Image: Verrückt water slide
Verruckt, which takes its name from the German word for insane, is 17 stories tall and sends riders on a 65-mph descent that includes a water-powered blast up and over a second, 50-foot hill.Schlitterbahn Waterpark

The waterpark and Tyler Austin Miles, 29, a former operations director at the park, were indicted Friday on involuntary manslaughter and several other charges in Caleb’s death. The indictment alleges that a company co-owner and the designer of the Verruckt rushed it into use and had no technical or engineering expertise related to amusement park rides.

The charges come after a 19-month investigation into the death of Caleb, the son of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. The raft he was in went airborne, hitting a pole and netting designed to keep riders from being thrown from the ride.

The indictment says a video shows that Caleb was following all rider instructions when he died.

The death seemed like an isolated accident until whistleblowers from Schlitterbahn revealed that experts who examined the slide found evidence indicating that other rafts had gone airborne and crashed into the overhead hoops and netting before the fatality, according to the indictment.

The ride complied with “few, if any” longstanding safety standards established by the American Society for Testing and Materials, and corporate correspondence found that “the child’s death and the rapidly growing list of injuries were foreseeable and expected outcomes,” according to the indictment.

Investigators found 13 injuries to others during the 182 days the ride operated, including two concussions and one case in which a 15-year-old girl went temporarily blind.

The other charges in the indictment include aggravated battery and aggravated endangering a child. Miles was indicted on two counts of interference with law enforcement and Schlitterbahn was indicted on one count of interference with law enforcement.

The ride was created after Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeffrey Wayne Henry made a “spur of the moment” decision in 2012 to build the world’s largest waterslide to impress the producers of a Travel Channel show. The indictment says Henry’s desire to “rush the project” and his designer’s lack of expertise caused them to “skip fundamental steps in the design process.”

Miles pleaded not guilty Friday during a brief court appearance. His attorneys asked that his bond be reduced to $15,000 from $50,000 but that request was denied. A trial was scheduled for Sept. 10.

The waterslide has been closed since Caleb’s death. Schlitterbahn has said it will dismantle the ride when the investigation into the boy’s death is complete.

Caleb Schwab’s family reached settlements of nearly $20 million with Schlitterbahn and various companies associated with the design and construction of the waterslide. The two women who rode with Caleb suffered serious injuries and settled claims with Schlitterbahn for an undisclosed amount.