New Schlitterbahn indictment gives further insight into cover-up of safety issues

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Wednesday's indictment of two Schlitterbahn maintenance workers provides further insight into the lengths park staff went to in order to cover up extremely dangerous safety issues, both before and and after the death of Caleb Schwab in 2016.

The new indictments charge two maintenance workers, David Hughes and John Zalsman, with obstructing law enforcement in the Schlitterbahn investigation.

Court documents say Hughes was the park's maintenance supervisor, and Zalsman and another employee on the crew were tasked with maintaining the Verrückt water slide that the 10-year-old boy died on. Records reveal they assisted in Verrückt's construction and performed multiple repairs on the slide's brake mat system.

Investigators found the brake mat on the incline of the second hill had completely failed 10 days before Caleb's death.

When investigators asked Hughes, Zalsman and the other maintenance worker why they didn't repair the brake mat after it fell off, each man claimed there never was a brake mat on that part of the slide. Each man said the brake mat was only present during testing but was removed before opening to the public in 2014.

Investigators had obtained video footage from a guest's GoPro camera clearly showing a brake mat at that location. Upon showing this evidence to the maintenance worker, the man changed his story.

Court documents from Wednesday's indictment also reveal a Schlitterbahn attorney's underhanded attempts to obtain information about testimony a 17-year-old employee gave to police, following an injury one guest sustained when his head his the overhead hoop and netting.

Jeff Henry, John Schooley and Tyler Miles

Court records state on Sept. 1, 2016, one of the lifeguards came forward to detectives to reveal Director of Operations Tyler Miles' efforts to cover up the injury. The lifeguard said Miles had coerced him into writing a coached statement to police.

About a week after the 17-year-old lifeguard came forward to detectives, Derek Mackay -- an attorney representing Schlitterbahn -- showed up announced at the teen's home. Mackay told the lifeguard's mother that he wanted to speak to him. The mother refused, saying that her son had given his report to police.

Mackay then asked for a copy of the report, but the mother refused. The attorney then said that the detective would want him to have the report. The mother again refused and asked Mackay to leave.

After Mackay left, the mother called the KCK detective to tell him about the encounter. The detective told her not to give the report to anyone. The detective then told the mother that the lawyer had just called him and said she had given her permission for police to release her son's report. She did no such thing.

While she was still speaking to the detective, Mackay contacted her and said that he had just spoken to the detective and claimed that the detective wanted her to give up the report. The detective did no such thing.

"The fact that this attorney employed aggressive, deceptive tactics in an attempt to gain access to a minor suggests that [Schlitterbahn] and Miles knew [the lifeguard's] information about the cover up could be devastating," court documents conclude.

The indictment reveals multiple instances in which Miles, Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, and Verruckt designer John Schooley openly discussed the ride's safety issues.

"[Verrückt] could hurt me, it could kill me, it is a seriously dangerous piece of equipment today because there are things that we don't know about it. Every day we learn more," Henry said during the ride's testing phase. "I've seen what this one has done to the crash dummies and to the boats we sent down it. Ever since the prototype. And we had boats flying in the prototype too. ... It's complex, it's fast, it's mean. If we mess up, it could be the end. I could die going down this ride."