Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry arrested in relation to 2016 fatal accident

Posted Tuesday, March 27, 2018 9:05 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Jeff Henry, the co-owner of Schlitterbahn, was arrested on Monday in Cameron County, Texas, on charges related to the 2016 death of a 10-year-old boy on a water slide in Kansas. The charges against Henry listed on the Cameron County jail database include 12 counts of aggravated battery and five counts of aggravated child endangerment.

Read more from The Kansas City Star.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 10:51 AM

US News & World Report is now saying one of his charges is murder.
https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2018-03-27/co-owner-of-wate...nsas-death


- Johnathan
@robotfactory

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018 11:10 AM

Which makes sense. Child endangerment?
Well, yeah....

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018 1:12 PM
Jeff's avatar

I don't know what the bar is to prove murder, but I imagine it's some combination of intent and pulling the trigger, which frankly he didn't do. I suspect the other charges are a slam dunk, but that one seems a bit odd.


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Tuesday, March 27, 2018 2:19 PM
Tekwardo's avatar

What charge of murder? It wouldn’t be first degree. But depending on laws in Kansas it very well could be a murder case.


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Tuesday, March 27, 2018 4:45 PM

Looks like second degree murder in Kansas would include killing someone "unintentionally but recklessly under the circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life."

https://law.justia.com/codes/kansas/2014/chapter-21/article-54/section-21-5403/

I would expect there is case law in Kansas with respect to what is required to prove those elements. Prosecutor presumably believes they have or will have enough evidence to prove them. Though its not unheard of for a prosecutor to aggressively charge with a goal of getting a plea deal to a lesser charge.

Ultimately you have to read charging papers with at least something of a skeptical eye. They reflect only one side of the story. Trial will give the defense a chance to tell their side of the story (which is typically very much different than the one told by the prosecution).

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018 9:59 PM

Not sure if this is worthy of another news item but they’ve now pressed charges against a designer of the slide as well as its construction company which is owned by Henry:

http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article207001119.html

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018 10:35 PM

I wonder what implications this will have for Schlitterbahn and the waterpark industry as a whole. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any incident at a large park (non-carnival/FEC) that resulted in such serious charges. Manslaughter seems more appropriate to me than second decree murder; perhaps the prosecution is going especially heavy on the charges because the deceased was the son of a state representative.

I've also always wondered just how precisely water slides are engineered. I'm sure slide designs are usually developed and checked by qualified individuals (unlike Verruckt, apparently), but I wonder just how precise those physics calculations are typically. I kind of imagine it depending on some rough approximations, considering how the ride dynamic must vary with how much the rider weighs, how inflated the rafts are, how much water is flowing through the slide, etc.

A properly designed slide should of course be safe with those variables being anywhere inside an acceptable operating range. According to the indictment, accelerometer tests one week before Verruckt’s opening revealed that rafts within the intended weight range “would likely go airborne." So it sounds like not only were Verruckt’s designers skipping the dynamics calculations, they were also bypassing trial-and-error by ignoring the test results.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018 4:22 PM

More from US News & World Report. Two people are charged with reckless second-degree murder.

"The Kansas attorney general's office says Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts co-owner Jeffrey Henry and ride designer John Schooley are charged with reckless second-degree murder in the indictment unsealed Tuesday. "

"The grand jury last week also indicted the park and its former operations manager, Tyler Austin Miles, on 20 felony charges, including involuntary manslaughter."

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/kansas/articles/2018-03-28/...s-in-death


- Johnathan
@robotfactory

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018 8:38 PM

I can agree the park and many people from design, construction, inspectors, and those that continued to operate it screwed up here, but so far, we're only getting one side of the story. There are plenty of in-house designed rides in the industry (the Beast and Flying Turns come to mind). Not all of them are death traps.

The truth on this story is probably somewhere in between simple "rider error" and the Ed Markey wet dream that they're making it sound like with the coverage so far.


-Matt

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Thursday, March 29, 2018 7:12 AM
Tekwardo's avatar

No. This cannot be blamed on rider error.


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Thursday, March 29, 2018 8:06 AM

I don't think it can be blamed on rider error either although I thought I remember early reports saying he didn't meet the requirements of the ride and was riding anyway. Even if that were the case, the park is responsible for enforcing its own rules. Also, I'd argue that the things that hold the nets to the slide are a design flaw in any case where there's any potential for a rider (arms, head, etc) to come into contact with it be it because their raft was launched, they escaped the restraint, they stood up, etc.

My point is I don't think that Jeff Henry is this murderous madman with no regard for human life that he's being made out to be. He sure does seem like an odd duck based on some stories from years ago before any of this happened, but Stan Checketts and Fred Grubb are too. Schlitterbahn in Texas and the company that launched out of it have been a pioneers in the waterpark industry going back decades. They invented stuff in house because no one else was making such things at the time.

I'm sure Intamin uses qualified engineers on their projects and they've had some pretty spectactular failures involving boats coming down lifts backwards, cables snapping, etc. I'm sure they've been hit in the wallet over these incidents as they should be, but I don't recall any of them going to jail for murder.


-Matt

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Thursday, March 29, 2018 10:16 AM

MDOmnis said:

...but so far, we're only getting one side of the story.

The truth on this story is probably somewhere in between simple "rider error" and the Ed Markey wet dream that they're making it sound like with the coverage so far.

And this is the point that 95% of people are missing.

A grand jury indictment is essentially a legal accusation that there is reasonable evidence that a crime has been committed. The indictment threshold bar is pretty low, and way lower than what is required for a conviction. Only the prosecution presents evidence during these closed hearings to a grand jury...so it is essentially only one side of the story; there is no defense component until jury trial. I also think there is an element of a pissed off state lawmaker with power and connections with the state attorney general and is trying to make a point/example.

As for rider error, my understanding is that the entire incident was recorded (in pretty good detail) by surveillance cameras and there is no evidence of any rider error(s).

In the end, when all the dust settles, whatever the result ends up being, I think that "Schlitterbahn" as the brand and parks that we currently relate to, are done. It will probably result in either some liquidation of their properties for new/outside real estate development and/or another operating group buying them out and re-branding.

Last edited by Hanging n' Banging, Thursday, March 29, 2018 10:23 AM
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Thursday, March 29, 2018 10:56 AM

I really hope the company doesn’t die, the KC disaster was clearly a gross error, and I think the company did the right thing selling off their slide design division afterwards, there was clearly some serious flaws in the design of that ride.

However their park ops people are great and I would hate to see this unique organization disappear. That said if all that is alleged is true and the company is proven to have falsified safety records my view would change.

That said I’m going to New Braunfels this year and have no reason at this time to change my plans.


2017 Trips: WDW, Dollywood, Cedar Point, KI, SDC, BGW, BGT, SWO, Universal Orlando

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Thursday, March 29, 2018 11:11 AM
Pete's avatar

I haven't seen a link to the official indictment posted here, CLICK HERE to read the indictment. If much of what is included in the indictment is true, this certainly wasn't an accident. It was not a matter of if someone would get killed but rather when someone would get killed. The indictment is a fascinating read and paints a picture of negligence, incompetence and cover-up that is truly frightening in the sense that Schiltterbahn had a reputation as a quality operation. This goes beyond just a faulty design, the points on deferred maintenance of the brake system and cover-ups of various accidents by the operations guy points to park operations being equally at fault.

Last edited by Pete, Thursday, March 29, 2018 4:31 PM

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Thursday, March 29, 2018 11:33 AM
birdhombre's avatar

Pete beat me to it. This isn't your standard "we have enough probable cause to go to trial" indictment. It's full of reports of prior incidents, including at least one where a rider hit the very same hoop, and other serious injuries (including a former employee who knew Miles personally, i.e. not a random total stranger, not that that should make a difference). Yet they continued to operate the ride without modification. Then of course there's trying to hide the evidence. Based on a quote from Miles's defense team, it sounds like their tack is going to be declaring some of said evidence invalid.

Now, I will grant that there's some subjective word choice in the indictment too. Opinions about rushing the construction, lack of credentials, etc. That's for the prosecution to prove in court. But just from the incident reports and email correspondence I'm not surprised these guys are being held personally liable rather than just the business going through a civil trial.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018 12:03 PM
Tekwardo's avatar

It’s a very different thing if Intamin or any company designs something and a flaw is found later than when another company designs something knowing it’s flawed and hide incidents and pressures people to lie about it.


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Thursday, March 29, 2018 12:25 PM
TheMillenniumRider's avatar

Being that the park is the owner, operator, and designer, complicates things a bit I would imagine. Conflicts of interest come into play here whereas if the ride was sold to the park it would be a very different case.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018 1:07 PM

If much of what is included in the indictment is true

I agree but the point is we don't know if what is charged in the indictment is true. Charging anything in an indictment doesn't make it true. People are acquitted every day in cases involving indictments which made them sound very guilty with a level of stated certainty and included evidence to that effect. But a guilty verdict doesn't result. Sometimes its because the burden of prove isn't met. Other times its because what is charged in the indictment just isn't supported by evidence presented at trial. We will see what happens at trial (if there is one). Doesn't sound good for the defendants though (but again that is pretty much always the case when reading an indictment).

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Thursday, March 29, 2018 1:23 PM

Go watch the episodes of Extreme Waterparks about the ride and you will realize much of what is in the indictment is probably true. They had to tear down the hill and rebuild it because the original profile, which Henry and others basically guesstimated, did not work. After watching that I seriously doubted they were qualified to "design" and build something so large and complicated (and dangerous).

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