Schlitterbahn Owners Face Second-Degree Murder Charges For Waterslide Death

They’re accused of recklessly developing the ride for publicity on a TV show, and then ignoring safety warnings.

By Michael MarksMarch 28, 2018 1:48 pm

You may not be familiar with the name Jeff Henry, but you almost certainly know his company. Henry is the co-owner of Schlitterbahn, which has four waterparks in Texas. On Tuesday, Henry was arrested in Cameron County. The charge: second-degree murder.

The indictment stems from a 2016 incident in which a 10-year-old boy named Caleb Schwab was killed while riding the “Verruckt.” That’s the German word for “crazy” – and the name of a water slide at the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas that is billed as the tallest in the world.

The Kansas Attorney General’s office also charged the ride’s designer, John Schooley, with the same crime. Although tragedies like this happen from time to time at amusement parks, the parks’ operators rarely face criminal charges.

Steve Vockrodt, a reporter for the Kansas City Star, says the charge is second-degree murder instead of manslaughter because the crime was committed with reckless “indifference to the value of human life.” He says the defendants could be facing prison time between nine years and 41 years.

“In the indictments,” Vockrodt says, “they paint a picture of the idea and the development of this slide as being a spur of the moment idea that they were hoping to get publicity from a television show, and that they ignored any number of safety and industry standards. That they ignored warnings and they knew people were getting injured, but didn’t do anything to prevent injuries. They didn’t do anything to maintain the slide.”

He says the ride itself has a high profile in Kansas.

“When it opened in 2014, it was the subject of a lot of attention and publicity,” Vockrodt says. “And if you drive out there, it’s kind of a rolling hills type area, but you see the slide towering for quite a distance and today it remains sort of a visible reminder of what happened.”

Written by Jen Rice.