Criminal Case Dismissed in Kansas Water Park Death

FILE – In this July 9, 2014, file photo, riders are propelled by jets of water as they go over a hump while riding a now-dismantled water slide called “Verruckt” at Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CN) – A Kansas judge dismissed all criminal charges against Schlitterbahn Waterpark officials on Friday, finding the Kansas Attorney General’s office submitted improper evidence to a grand jury in the case of a 10-year-old boy who was killed while riding the park’s 17-story Verruckt water slide.

A grand jury in 2018 issued, among other charges, second-degree murder charges against Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry and Verruckt designer John Schooley. Former operations manager Tyler Miles was charged with involuntary manslaughter, as well as 12 counts of aggravated battery and five counts of aggravated endangerment of a child.

Wyandotte County Judge Robert Burns, however, dismissed all charges Friday, citing inappropriate evidence shown to the grand jury including a “highly dramatized” Travel Channel show documenting the water slide’s construction. In the video, Henry and other Schlitterbahn officials dramatically spoke of the Verruckt water slide’s 17-story drop.

Burns agreed with defense attorneys that the video was a scripted piece of entertainment rather than an accurate depiction of the water slide’s construction.

“Upon viewing the video, the court concludes this exhibit was not a likeness of what it purported to represent,” Burns said, “and depicted a staged demonstration for entertainment purposes, not a factual depiction of the design and construction of the water slide.”

Caleb Schwab, the son of Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, died in August 2016 when his raft went airborne and struck a metal support. Two others on the raft were injured in the incident. The Schwab family reached a nearly $20 million settlement with the water park in 2017.

The judge also said the state allowed a questionable expert witness to testify about testing standards. Engineer and consultant Edward Pribonic testified before the grand jury last year that the standards created by the American Society of Testing and Materials were required by law. While those standards are now legally required, they weren’t at the time of the water slide’s construction in 2013.

Additionally, Burns found testimony about the death of a man in Schlitterbahn’s Texas water park was not relevant to the case.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt did not immediately return a call for comment.

Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio released a statement on the ruling, saying “We welcome today’s decision which dismissed the charges against all defendants. We are thankful for all the support and encouragement we’ve received.”

The Verruckt, the German word for insane, was permanently closed following Schwab’s death, though dismantling of the water slide didn’t happen until November 2018 after investigators finished inspecting it.

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