I certainly remember hearing about the horrific 2016 death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab at the Schlitterbahn waterpark in Kansas. Schwab was riding the giant, steep Verruckt waterslide when his raft went airborne. The force with which Schwab hit protective netting was so great that he was decapitated. At the time, the Verruckt death made headlines because it was both tragic and horrifying—a child out at a waterpark for a day of fun with his family tragically lost his life. But like so many news stories, it faded into my memory until this past week.
Then, last Friday, a Kansas City grand jury decided that Caleb Schwab’s death was not merely accidental, but criminal. The Associated Press reported that after a 19-month investigation, “the [Schlitterbahn] 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.”
Photo: Schlitterbahn Park
I don’t know about you, but as a parent, that last line about this 168 foot, 7-inch waterslide being rushed into use and designed by people who had no expertise related to amusement park rides kind of freaks me out. The Verruckt was specifically built to be the world’s tallest water slide and break a world record in order to make a splash on a travel TV show…and that desire to be the biggest and most outrageous led to a child’s death.
Photo: Schwab family
What’s more, the investigation found that 13 other injuries occurred in the 182 days the slide operated before Schwab’s Verruckt death. But the need to sell water park tickets apparently trumped all. Video of the tragic accident showed that Schwab was using the raft correctly; in the end, it was simply unsafe.
The Associated Press also reported that the grand jury’s indictment says that Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeffrey Wayne Henry’s decision to “rush the project” to have it done for the Travel Channel show and his and his designer’s lack of expertise caused them to “skip fundamental steps in the design process.”
Parents, as we head out for summer and even spring break fun this season, we don’t need to leave in fear, but I think based on what the investigation uncovered in the Verruckt death we need to be a little extra careful about rides claiming to be the “MOST” or “world record breaking” or just EXTREME. In a big business like amusement and water parks where “thrill” is the name of the game, it would appear that shortcuts and risks can easily take place and become costly. The grand jury in this case started the ball rolling, and I pray that their actions will bring justice for the Schwab family, and better safety restrictions for customers seeking some summer fun.