Schlitterbahn and former ops manager indicted in 2016 Verruckt death

Posted | Contributed by Brian Noble

A grand jury in Wyandotte County on Friday returned an indictment against Schlitterbahn, charging the company and a former operations director with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery and reckless endangerment of a child in the 2016 death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on the Verruckt water slide.

Read more from The Kansas City Star.

Tommytheduck's avatar

Wow. That is a fascinating read. I knew that they were having problems that led to long delays in opening, but I had no idea that the entire project was so haphazard.

LostKause's avatar

In our discussions here on CoasterBuzz after the accident, a lot of us were talking about how unsafe the ride seemed. This story takes what we were discussing and times it by ten.

This story is so fascinating, everything that led up to this indictment would make an amazing movie.

It seems that inexperience and the pressure of drawing business to the park is a huge contributing factor. I feel bad for everyone involved, but especially for the family of the boy.

I'm surprised that anyone would attempt to design a ride without any physics calculations, which is what it sounds like Schlitterbhan did.

LostKause's avatar

Two words... Action Park.

To get the permit to build the thing, you'd think someone had to have a PE license.

^^There's a reason the locals called it "Class Action Park."

Last edited by 0g,

Traction Park is what I always heard.

That article is shocking to say the least. I call it “Jaws Syndrome” where the desire to be open precludes any common sense.

And I always assumed that that ride was designed and constructed by a reputable water ride manufacturer, White Water, or something like that. But now that I think about it, Schlitterbahn is noted for their house-designed, house-built attractions, many of which are their own invention.
I’ve seen those croquet hoop covers over many rides before, so it probably seemed like a tried and true solution. But clearly not during a 60mph airtime moment.

This is more than sad. It puts a blemish on the company, it mars the industry, and there were injuries and finally the loss of a life to get these guys to wake up. But way too late.
Good luck to them, but it looks like someone’s goin’ to jail.

Last edited by RCMAC,
Raven-Phile's avatar

I read all 40-something pages of the indictment, and wow... It's safe to say someone's goose is cooked.

Vater's avatar

RCMAC said:

And I always assumed that that ride was designed and constructed by a reputable water ride manufacturer, White Water, or something like that.

Yeah, that was my assumption as well. I remember seeing the video of the test run the year before it opened where the raft flew off the slide at the top of the second hill. After the initial thought that it looked like some of my old RollerCoaster Tycoon slides where I built the second hill too short resulting in inflated rafts somehow erupting in a fiery explosion upon hitting the ground, I remember thinking that while the design seemed highly suspect, it had to have been some oversight that would be easily corrected because, well, "they must know what they're doing."

How entirely wrong I was.

This makes me wonder about the safety of other NBGS products? Its seems that they shared some management. Was it routine for them not to complete dynamic calculations for attractions before going to production? Do other Master Blaster style attractions with hoop and netting over them conform to ASTM guidelines? It would seem that they don't. Even though the force on those rides in not NEAR what was experienced on Verruckt, it is still foreseeable that a guest could come into contact with the hoop and netting during the course of the ride causing serious injury. If I were still in operations, I'd think twice about opening those this summer until I had a safer solution.

hambone's avatar

I was just about to type that it was hard to see how Schlitterbahn ownership avoided indictments in this case, when I saw this:

I am guessing that the evidence against ops manager Miles was more directly damning, given the alleged falsification of lifeguard reports and medical records. But clearly the design of the thing showed what one might call a callous disregard for the public's safety.

How in the world did this place have insurance? Or maybe they self-insured somehow?

I'm not a lawyer and all that, but I would say the indictment of the park itself looks like an attempt to force a sale to a more responsible company, if not close it down entirely.

hambone's avatar

^^FormerFlags, I watched a video of Wildebeest at Holiday World, which has similar hoops and netting, and one difference *appears* to be that on Wildebeest, the rafts require propulsion to get them up the hills, rather than relying on momentum. So that might provide more control over the speed of the raft as it crests the hill.

kpjb's avatar

The rafts on Verruckt also required propulsion to get them over the hill.

I read the whole indictment, and yikes!!! I can't believe that they operated with such disregard for safety, life, and the law.

I also can't believe that any ride could be commissioned without a sign-off from an engineer. That may be a state regulatory issue that needs to be addressed.

I don't believe that designing your own ride is inherently bad... parks used to do it all the time, Knoebels still does. But with all the resources available today, how do you not "check your math" with a professional? If you're pushing the limits like this, especially.

Last edited by kpjb,


Bakeman31092's avatar

Vater said: looked like some of my old RollerCoaster Tycoon slides where I built the second hill too short resulting in inflated rafts somehow erupting in a fiery explosion upon hitting the ground...

Oddly enough, there were lessons to be learned from RCT, because as we all know you could avoid raft liftoff by making your bunny hop section a fully enclosed tunnel rather than an open trough, and while there would still be major issues with a raft going airborne inside a tube at high speed, you wouldn't have the snagging problem that you get with Verruckt's netting system.

Tekwardo's avatar

Just a broken neck or cracked skull from hitting the top of the tube.

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Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.

Yeah, I'm not sure that dying from blunt force trauma is that much better.

Bakeman31092's avatar

You can survive a skull fracture or a broken neck. You can’t survive decapitation.

ApolloAndy's avatar

I can't tell if you're actually defending a solid enclosed tube as a real solution to this problem, but the real solution is to not have rafts get airborne in the first place.

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

But that requires people who understand like science and stuff. No one (apparently) who worked on or was in anyway involved with this project did. So they came up with some type of lid. Hard to believe that is actually how everything panned out here but I guess we will see at trial.

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