Co-owner of water park arrested in connection with child’s death on world’s tallest slide
Courtesy Schwab Family(KANSAS CITY, Kan.) — The co-owner of a Kansas water park is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to face criminal charges stemming from the 2016 death of a 10-year-old boy on the Verrückt waterslide, the world’s tallest.
Prosecutors allege that Jeffrey Henry, 62, co-owner of the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, designed the waterslide without any certifiable expertise and had rapidly built it in violation of “nearly all aspects” of industry safety standards.
Henry was arrested Monday near Las Padre Island, Texas, where he owns another waterpark. He was jailed on charges of murder, aggravated battery and aggravated child endangerment.
Prosecutors charged that Henry and other employees of the waterpark attempted to hide from investigators documents detailing injuries to at least 14 people on the 168-foot-tall Verrückt waterslide leading up to Caleb Schwab’s death on Aug. 7, 2016. The injuries included whiplash, jaw bone fractures, slipped spinal disks and broken bones.
The waterslide, which was certified in 2014 by the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest in the world, was only in operation for six months.
Experts in the field of amusement ride design and safety noted that “Verrückt’s design violated nearly all aspects of the longstanding industry safety standards,” according to an indictment unsealed last week in the case.
Henry was taken into custody by U.S. marshals just days after Schlitterbahn park’s former operations director, Tyler Austin Miles, was arrested and charged with 20 felony counts, including involuntary manslaughter, in connection Caleb’s death.
Caleb was decapitated on the Verrückt waterslide that Henry designed despite being a high-school dropout with no technical or engineering credentials, prosecutors said. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the indictment also named the Schletterbahn Waterpark as a defendant in the case.
“While we as a family continue to mourn and heal from Caleb’s passing, we wanted to again thank the community of Kansas City for its continued prayers and support,” Caleb’s family said in a statement. “Clearly the issues with Schlitterbahn go far beyond Caleb’s incident, and we know the Attorney General will take appropriate steps in the interest of public safety.”
Corporate emails, memos, blueprints, videos, photos and statements from witnesses showed that “this child’s death and the rapidly growing list of injuries were foreseeable and expected outcomes,” according to the indictment.
But Schlitterbahn Waterpark disputed the accusation in a statement.
“The allegation that we operated, and failed to maintain, a ride that could foreseeably cause such a tragic accident is beyond the pale of speculation,” the statement said.
“The accusation that we withheld information or altered evidence is completely false. We have operated with integrity from day one at the waterpark — as we do throughout our waterparks and resorts. We put our guests and employees safety first; and safety and maintenance are at the top of our list of priorities,” the statement continued.
Henry, according to the indictment, was the driving force behind the construction of the waterslide and investigators discovered emails indicating he wanted to “rush the timeline” for building the ride, leading to “fundamental steps in the design process” being skipped over.
It took just 36 days from the time Henry first conceived the idea for the waterslide to when it was completed, according to the court papers.
“In place of mathematical and physics calculations, they rushed forward relying almost entirely on crude trial-and-error methods,” the indictment said.
Investigators, according to the indictment, found that Henry allegedly rushed the project to impress producers of the Travel Channel’s “Xtreme Waterparks” series and in an eagerness to achieve bragging rights over rival waterparks.
“Henry openly admitted that one of his principal motivations in building Verrückt was to flaunt his achievements in the face of the other waterpark owners,” according to the indictment.
Investigators also found that Henry considered restricting the slide to customers over the age of 14, but changed his mind on the eve of the slide’s grand opening and had workers cover up the age requirement listed on signs with stickers, according to the indictment.
Henry’s own words indicate that he was well aware of the dangers posed by the waterslide: “I could die going down this ride,” Henry once said, according to the court papers.
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