Judge Dismisses Charges in 170-Foot-Tall Water Slide Decapitation

170-Foot-Tall Water Slide DecapitationUPDATED 2019/02/25

In 2016, a young boy was riding a nearly 170-foot-tall water slide in Kansas when he was decapitated and died. State attorneys brought criminal charges against operators and associates of the waterpark, accusing those involved of recklessness.

The water slide, which was named Verruckt (meaning “crazy or insane” in German) opened in 2014 and was marketed as the tallest water slide in the world. The rafts used on the ride would sometimes lift from the chute and the slide was covered in netting that was supported by poles so that riders would not fall off. But there were times that the riders struck the netting or poles, injuries that occured before 10-year-old Caleb Schwab’s death in August 2016. The 10-year-old was knocked from the ride and toward the netting, where he hit a metal pole and decapitated. Caleb’s family received a $20 million settlement from Schlitterbahn Waterparks and companies involved in the slide.The two women on the raft with Caleb were sisters who also sustained facial injuries and bone fractures. They also received settlements from the park.

Criminal indictments were brought against defendants Jeffrey W. Henry, a co-owner of the waterpark, John T. Schooley, a designer of the slide; Tyler Austin Miles, a former operations director, KC Waterpark Management and Henry & Sons Construction Company. All were accused of reckless behavior in design, construction and operation of the slide and faced charges of aggravated child endangerment and second-degree murder.

On Friday, citing “improper evidence” on the part of the prosecution, Judge Robert Burns of Wyandotte County dismissed the charges. He wrote in his ruling that there was “illegal evidence that should not have been presented to the grand jury” and questioned the validity of the video and expert testimony that prosecutors presented to jurors.

Judge Burns also wrote, “I obviously recognize that the circumstances and events giving rise to these indictments are indisputably tragic. A young child’s life was lost and his troubling death was mourned by family, friends and the entire Kansas community and beyond.”