Saturday 21 April 2018

Water park co-owner arrested after boy decapitated on 'insane' world's largest slide

Caleb Schwab, 10, was killed in the incident at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, which is located about 15 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri.
Caleb Schwab, 10, was killed in the incident at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, which is located about 15 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri.

John Hanna

A water park owner has been arrested on murder and battery charges over the death by decapitation of a 10-year-old boy on a water slide billed as the world’s largest.

Jeffrey Henry is due to appear in court after Caleb Schwab died at the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas, in 2016 when his his raft took off during a ride on the 17-storey attraction.

A grand jury indictment of park staff, made public last week, alleged the “Verruckt” slide “violated nearly all aspects” of industry safety standards. Court documents said Mr Henry and lead designer John Schooley concocted the idea of building the world’s tallest water slide in 2012 on the “spur of the moment” despite having no design qualifications.

Records now show Mr Henry, co-owner of the Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts company, was booked into the jail in Cameron County, Texas. He was being held without bond, and a jail booking clerk said he would remain there until a court appearance on Tuesday. A cached online version of the Cameron County inmate list showed he faced charges including murder and aggravated battery.

His arrest on Monday followed the indictment of the park’s former operations director, Tyler Austin Miles, on 20 felony charges. They included a single count of involuntary manslaughter over Caleb’s death.

Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio said that considering last week’s indictment, the company was not surprised by Henry’s arrest. The company also promised to aggressively fight the criminal charges against Miles and the park, and respond to the allegations in the 47-page indictment “point by point”.

“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,” she said in an emailed statement.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking further comment, details about Henry’s arrest, or information about exactly what criminal charges he faces. The Kansas City Star reported Henry was taken into custody by US marshals based in Brownsville, Texas.

Caleb Schwab, 10, was killed in the incident at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, which is located about 15 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri
Caleb Schwab, 10, was killed in the incident at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, which is located about 15 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri

Ms Prosapio said Schlitterbahn did not expect any changes to the Kansas City park’s season, which is set to open on 25 May and run until 3 September. Verruckt - German for “insane” – has been closed since Caleb died.

The boy was decapitated after the raft on which he was riding went airborne. He was the son of Republican state representative Scott Schwab, of Olathe, and the family reached settlements of nearly $20m (€16m) 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.

The indictment against Mr Miles and the park alleges that Verruckt met few, if any, industry standards and that Mr Miles delayed or avoided necessary repairs, even after the ride’s brake system failed.

It also said Mr Henry helped design the giant waterslide even though he had “no technical or engineering credentials” and that he set a “rushed timeline” for its construction.

Schlitterbahn said last week’s indictment was “full of false information”, and the company also rejected its allegations that Mr Miles and the company withheld information from law enforcement officials. It said the allegation that Caleb’s death was foreseeable is “beyond the pale of speculation”.

Mr Miles’ lawyers said in their own statement that they welcome the opportunity to prove his innocence in court.

“Not only had Tyler ridden the slide numerous times, but, as the state is aware, he had scheduled his wife to ride it on the day of the accident,” the attorneys, Tom and Tricia Bath, said in their statement. “These are not the actions of someone who believed the ride to be dangerous.”

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