Designers of Kansas water slide indicted for murder in deadly water park incident
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (WDAF) -- The attorney general for the state of Kansas, Derek Schmidt, announced Tuesday that a Wyandotte County grand jury has indicted a third person and a construction company in connection to the deadly 2016 water slide incident that took the life of a 10-year-old boy.
The second indictment, unsealed Tuesday, includes charges of reckless second-degree murder against Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, designer John Timothy Schooley and Henry & Sons Construction Company, Inc.
The three were indicted in connection with injuries sustained by 13 other persons, including four other minors, while riding the water slide. Those charges include aggravated battery and aggravated endangering a child.
Henry, the water park's co-owner, was arrested Monday in Texas. The U.S. Marshal Service confirmed he was arrested in Cameron County in southern Texas on a Kansas warrant. Schooley is not currently in custody.
Henry was frequently mentioned in an indictment released Friday, which charged the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, Kansas, and one of its former executives with dozens of charges, including involuntary manslaughter in the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab.
The 10-year-old died while riding the Verrückt water slide when the raft he was on went airborne and hit a metal pole overhead.
On Friday, 29-year-old Tyler Miles, the KCK water park's former director of operations, was charged with 20 felony counts in connection with Caleb's 2016 death.
Schlitterbahn has also been indicted in the 10-year-old’s death. The KCK water park has been charged with involuntary manslaughter along with several other charges in connection to the 13 other people who were injured while riding the water slide, which has since been permanently shut down.
The indictment for Miles and Schlitterbahn frequently mentions Henry's involvement in numerous allegations of negligence.
Whistle-blowers from within Schlitterbahn told investigators that water park officials covered up past incidents similar to the one that led to Caleb's death and injuries for two other women on the raft with him, according to the indictment.
Experts found physical evidence indicating that, in the past, other rafts had gone airborne and collided with the overhead hoops and netting.
Along with being co-owner of Schlitterbahn, Henry was also a designer -- along with John Schooley -- of the Verrückt, which was hailed as the tallest water slide in the world when it opened in 2014.
Court documents say Henry has no technical or engineering credentials yet he controls many key decisions regarding design and projects at Schlitterbahn. Schooley also does not have any engineering credentials relevant to amusement ride design or safety.
Not a single engineer was directly involved in Verrückt's dynamic engineering or slide path design, court documents say.
According to the indictment, Henry and Schooley skipped steps in the design process, relying on trial-and-error methods.
Henry set a timeline of seven months for the design, construction and testing of the Verrückt, court documents say. Experts said a team of 3-4 people would need 3-6 months just to design the slide before ground is even broken.
Experts also said the slide's design guaranteed that rafts would go airborne occasionally and could severely injure or kill riders, court documents say.
Investigators said Henry, Schooley and Miles all allegedly knew about the problem before the slide opened to the public. According to the indictment, there is video evidence of Henry and Schooley in a raft going airborne during their personal test.
Knowing these problems, Henry and Schooley began experimenting with brake systems, court documents say. They also allegedly started running tests at night in secret.
A month after the slide opened, the indictment says Henry allegedly received a report saying Verrückt was unfinished and unsafe. The water slide remained open.
Schlitterbahn will tear down the water slide once a court grants it permission following the investigation.
Schlitterbahn has said they will fight the allegations against the water park and its executives.
"Considering the allegations from Friday’s indictment, we were not surprised at the actions taken by the Attorney General to charge Jeff Henry," said Schliterbahn spokesperson Winter Prosapio said. "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."
Schlitterbahn also released the following statement Monday:
"We were shocked by the allegations being made by the Attorney General about Tyler and our KC park. 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. Many of us, and our children and grandchildren, have ridden the ride with complete confidence as to its safety. Our operational mantra has been and will forever be Safety First.
"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.
"Since the date of the incident we have worked closely with law enforcement; at no time have we withheld evidence; at no time have we altered evidence. The indictment uses quoted statements from a reality TV show that was scripted for dramatic effect that in no way reflects the design and construction of the ride.
Quotes were purported to be from definitive design meetings, when they were, in fact, “acting.”
"During the civil matter, attorneys involved noted that we cooperated fully, provided thousands of documents, and that nothing was withheld or tampered with. The secret Grand Jury never heard one word from us directly, nor were we allowed to provide contradictory evidence. And we have plenty.
"In fact, the indictment presented is so full of false information that it has shocked the Kansas legal community, as you can see in the statement from Tyler Miles’ attorneys below.
"Our legal team will be speaking out against each of the allegations point by point in the coming weeks and months. Rest assured, we stand behind our staff and all our parks. We will be fighting these charges aggressively. We know that Tyler is innocent and that we run a safe operation – our 40 years of entertaining millions of people speaks to that.
"We look forward to proving this in court where we know the facts will prove this was an accident."
Miles' attorneys, Tom and Tricia Bath, released the following statement:
"The suggestions that C.S.’s death was foreseeable to Tyler Miles, that, with this knowledge Tyler “avoided or delayed repairs,” and that Tyler “had covered up similar incidents” are simply not true. 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. These are not the actions of someone who believed the ride to be dangerous.
"The allegation that Tyler knowingly obstructed the investigation is, likewise, false. From the moment of the accident, and continuing until the charges were filed, Tyler cooperated with law enforcement. He did not hide or destroy documents.
"The Constitution requires that an Indictment be based upon legal evidence- not speculation or conjecture. This Indictment is based upon Grand Jury proceedings, which are conducted in secret. While neither we nor the public have had an opportunity to see transcripts of Grand Jury witness testimony, the Indictment is littered with references to evidence that is not legal.
"Only after Tyler is able to obtain transcripts, witness statements and police reports will he, like any citizen, be in a position to fully address these allegations. What we know is that Tyler is innocent, which is why he insisted, at his first court appearance, that we set the matter for jury trial. We look forward to the opportunity to challenge the evidence, in a public forum, and prove Tyler’s innocence."
Caleb's father, Scott, released a statement on the family's behalf:
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. While we have no control over the investigation, we have full faith and trust in Attorney General Derek Schmidt and his office as relates to last week’s indictments, as well as any other decisions that office may make going forward. 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.