New details emerge after Kansas boy dies on world’s tallest waterslide

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas waterslide billed as the world’s tallest remained off-limits as authorities pressed to figure out how a state lawmaker’s 10-year-old son died of a neck injury while riding it.

Details remained murky about what happened Sunday to Caleb Thomas Schwab on the 168-foot-tall “Verruckt” — German for “insane” — that since its debut two years ago has been the top draw at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas.

Kansas City, Kansas, police issued a statement late Monday afternoon saying that Caleb suffered a fatal neck injury around 2:30 p.m. while he was riding the slide with two women, neither of whom was related to him. They suffered minor facial injuries and were treated at an area hospital, police said.

Emergency responders arrived to find the boy dead in a pool at the end of the ride, according to the statement, which offered no further details.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Schlitterbahn said it was “deeply and intensely saddened for the Schwab family and all who were impacted by the tragic accident.” The park was tentatively scheduled to reopen Wednesday, but “Verruckt is closed,” according to the statement.

Officer Cameron Morgan, a police spokesman, said no police report about the incident was available. He said police were investigating because a death was involved and they want to ensure no crime was committed, but he noted that such accidents are usually handled as civil cases.

“It’s being investigated as a criminal case but we are not saying something criminal happened,” Morgan said Tuesday.

Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio declined interview requests Monday but told reporters a day earlier that Caleb had been at the park with family members, adding that “we honestly don’t know what’s happened.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether results of an autopsy Monday on Caleb would be publicly released or, if so, how soon, said Margaret Studyvin with the Wyandotte County coroner’s office.

Leslie Castaneda, who was at Schlitterbahn on Sunday, told The Kansas City Star that she saw Caleb’s crumpled shorts or bathing suit at the bottom of the ride, along with blood on the slide’s white descending flume.

“I’m really having a tough time with it. I really am,” said Castaneda, of Kansas City, Kansas. “I saw his (Caleb’s) brother. He was screaming.”

On the waterslide certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest, riders sit in multi-person rafts during “the ultimate in water slide thrills,” subjecting “adventure seekers” to a “jaw dropping” 17-story drop, the park’s website says. Passengers then are “blasted back up a second massive hill and then sent down yet another gut wrenching 50 foot drop,” the website adds.

Each rider must be at least 54 inches tall, and the group’s weight is limited to a total of 400 to 550 pounds. Authorities didn’t release information about Caleb’s height or the combined weight of his group of riders.

According to rules sent to the media in 2014, riders had to be at least 14 years old, but that requirement is no longer listed on the park’s website.

Caleb’s parents — Republican state Rep. Scott Schwab and his wife, Michele — have requested privacy as the family grieves, saying in a statement Sunday that “since the day he was born, (Caleb) brought abundant joy to our family and all those he came in contact with.”

“As we try to mend our home with him no longer with us, we are comforted knowing he believed in our Savior Jesus, and they are forever together now. We will see him another day,” the statement added.

The tragedy happened on a day the park offered lawmakers and other elected officials a buffet lunch, hot dogs and hamburgers.

Verruckt’s 2014 opening repeatedly was delayed, though the operators didn’t explain why. Two media sneak preview days in 2014 were canceled because of problems with a conveyor system that hauls 100-pound rafts to the top of the slide.

In a news article linked to the news release announcing a 2014 delay, Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry told USA Today that he and senior designer John Schooley had based their calculations when designing the slide on roller coasters, but that didn’t translate well to a waterslide like Verruckt.

In early tests, rafts carrying sandbags flew off the slide, prompting engineers to tear down half of the ride and reconfigure some angles at a cost of $1 million, Henry said.

A promotional video about building the slide includes footage of two men riding a raft down a half-size test model and going slightly airborne as it crests the top of the first big hill.

The Unified Government of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County said it does not inspect the operations of such rides and is responsible only for ensuring they’ve adhered to local building codes.

Without specifically mentioning waterslides, Kansas statutes define an “amusement ride” as any mechanical or electrical conveyance “for the purpose of giving its passengers amusement, pleasure, thrills or excitement.” Such rides, by statute, commonly are Ferris wheels, carousels, parachute towers, bungee jumps and roller coasters.

State law leaves it to the Kansas Department of Labor to adopt rules and regulations relating to certification and inspection of rides, adding that a permanent amusement ride must be scrutinized by “a qualified inspector” at least every 12 months. Kansas’ Labor Department didn’t return messages Monday.

Prosapio said Sunday the park’s rides are inspected daily and by an “outside party” before the start of each season.

Kansas state Sen. Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican, said that although state law doesn’t specifically address waterslides, it’s clear they “would fall into that category.” He called any potential legislative response to Sunday’s tragedy premature, saying the investigation should be given time to play out.

Written by: JIM SUHR, Associated Press. Associated Press writers Maria Sudekum, Bill Draper and Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, John Hanna in Topeka and Roxana Hegeman in Wichita contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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11 Comments

  • Bob August 9, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    the boy probly tried to do something idiotic and the other riders may have run into him. i’m sure the lawsuit will be enough to shut down the operation for good. only takes 1 idiot to ruin the fun for everyone. probably tens of thousands have used the ride without incident

    • Linn August 9, 2016 at 6:04 pm

      Shame on you Bob.

      • Bob August 9, 2016 at 7:19 pm

        my guess is he found a way to stop himself in the slide, and the other people hit him at full speed

        • Mike August 10, 2016 at 8:57 am

          No Bob. This isn’t the ordinary water slide that one could stop yourself in. It is a roller coaster on water where the three people were strapped into a raft with solid seats. Also, it is a fast, steep, straight drop. There would be no time for anyone to mess around. This poor child was probably too light or the restraint didn’t work correctly.

          • Bob August 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm

            if that’s the case the parents will get a well-deserved $$$30 mil

        • Chris August 10, 2016 at 8:57 pm

          geez, Bob. You are going off with absolutely no knowledge of what happened. You remind me of Trump–no control of what comes out of your mouth.

      • .... August 9, 2016 at 9:04 pm

        as far as Bob goes don’t mind him. he has no problem showing how stupid and ignorant he really is. on several articles he came in and made some derogatory and ignorant comments and when the updated version comes up and he sees what kind of an idiot he makes himself look like he just runs and hides underneath that rock he crawled out from.

    • Mean Momma August 9, 2016 at 11:37 pm

      “It only takes one idiot…” You would know, wouldn’t you Bob?

      • Bob August 10, 2016 at 12:37 pm

        ohhh, why don’t you go adopt some somalis and shhh

  • Linn August 9, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    My heart goes out to the family and friends. I have a 9-year-old boy so this hits close to home. So sorry for your loss.

  • .... August 9, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Linn. my condolences to the family as well this is tragic and heartbreaking and the family has been devastated this. .my prayers are with the famiy.

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