Waterpark Co-Owner Indicted On Reckless Murder Charges
The co-owner of a Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts in Kansas was arrested in Texas near the border of Mexico and indicted on a second-degree murder charge in connection with the death of a 10-year-old boy who was decapitated on what investigators found to be a poorly designed waterslide, constructed far too quickly.
Initial reports said Jeff Henry was charged with aggravated battery and aggravated child endangerment. But the Kansas attorney general’s office said Henry had been indicted with ride designer John Schooley on a charge of reckless second-degree murder. Second-degree murder in Kansas is defined as the “killing of a human being committed intentionally or unintentionally but recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Penalties carry potential prison sentences ranging from nine years to 41 years. Henry is being held without bond.
Caleb Schwab died on the park’s equipment in 2016. The boy was decapitated when his raft flew up in the air and collided with overhead hoops and netting. He was the son of a Kansas state representative from Olathe, Senator Scott Schwab, and his wife, Michele.
The family released a statement following Caleb’s death. “Since the day he was born, he brought abundant joy to our family and all those who he came into contact with,” it read. “As we try to mend our home with him no longer with us, we are comforted knowing he believed in his Savior, Jesus, and they are forever together now. We will see him another day.”
The slide was immediately closed and will stay closed indefinitely. State law requires a qualified inspector’s approval before the reopening of an amusement ride after a serious injury.
Henry and Schooley were charged with reckless child endangerment and aggravated battery. Henry & Sons Construction Co., controlled by Henry, was also charged in the case. The waterpark itself and its former operations director, Tyler Austin Miles, were indicted on twenty criminal counts, including involuntary manslaughter, aggravated child endangerment and aggravated battery.
According to investigators, Henry dropped out of high school and has no technical or engineering training or credentials. This is despite the fact that he has been responsible for many decisions regarding Schlitterbahn construction and design projects.
The park initially rushed to complete the water slide, which is the world’s tallest, to impress producers of a Travel Channel show called Xtreme Waterparks. The park “obviously ignored” a consultant’s warning that the 17-story high ride was unsafe, according to court papers. Operators opened the ride, named the Verrückt, in July 2014, despite the warning — twenty months from conception to grand opening.
The indictment said Schwab’s death was thought to be an isolated incident until waterpark whistleblowers came forward and said Schlitterbahn had covered up similar incidents prior to this more visible one. At least fourteen others came forward and reported being injured on the slide.
The Kansas waterpark’s representatives said in a recently released statement that it has demonstrated “the highest dedication to safety” and it would contest the charges. Schwab’s family received a settlement of nearly $20 million from Schlitterbahn and other companies named in their lawsuit.
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