KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Stunning allegations of negligence are included in the court document indicting Schlitterbahn Waterpark and one of its former executives on dozens of charges, including involuntary manslaughter in the 2016 water slide death of a 10-year-old boy.
Twenty-nine-year-old Tyler Miles, the former director of operations for Schlitterbahn's Kansas City, Kansas location, faces a total of 20 felony charges in connection with death of Caleb Schwab, who died while riding the Verrückt water slide in August 2016. He suffered a neck injury after the raft he was riding went airborne and hit netting and a metal rod above.
Schlitterbahn has also been indicted in the 10-year-old’s death. The KCK water park has been charged with involuntary manslaughter along with several other charges in connection to the 13 other people who were injured while riding the water slide, which has since been permanently shut down.
Schwab was riding the water slide with two adult women. Court documents say video recordings show the boy was obeying all rider instructions while he was on the water slide.
But the ride ended in tragedy for the young boy and his family. Additionally, one of the women on the raft suffered a broken jaw. The other suffered a broken bone in her face and had to have stitches in her eye. The two women have since agreed to out-of-court financial settlements in this case. The Schwab family also reached a settlement with Schlitterbahn.
Court documents say the women's injuries were not the first that happened on the dangerous water slide, which was built in 2014.
Whistle-blowers from within Schlitterbahn told investigators that water park officials covered up similar incidents in the past, according to the indictment. Experts found physical evidence indicating that, in the past, other rafts had gone airborne and collided with the overhead hoops and netting.
At the time of Caleb’s death, the water slide was in compliance with Kansas’ legal requirements for amusements rides, which mostly involve proper record-keeping. State law mandates that parks annually “self-inspect” their rides and maintain the records.
The indictment against Schlitterbahn and Miles also names two other executives who had a part in the design of the Verrückt -- Jeff Henry, a designer of the water slide and co-owner of the water park, and John Schooley, the lead designer of the slide who was allegedly in charge of doing "the math" that went into the design.
Court documents say Henry has no technical or engineering credentials yet he controls many key decisions regarding design and projects at Schlitterbahn. Schooley also does not have any engineering credentials relevant to amusement ride design or safety.
Not a single engineer was directly involved in Verrückt's dynamic engineering or slide path design, court documents say.
According to the indictment, Henry and Schooley skipped steps in the design process, relying on trial-and-error methods.
Henry set a timeline of 7 months for the design, construction and testing of the Verrückt, which was once hailed as the world's tallest water slide at 168 feet and 7 inches. Experts said a team of 3-4 people would need 3-6 months just to design the slide before ground is even broken.
A steel worker who was hired to assist with the slide's construction told investigators he was forced to ship the tower too early, according to the indictment. Because the hoops above the slide weren't delivered on time, Henry allegedly decided no hoops or nets would be needed.
Additionally, investigators said the rafts' hook-and-loop passenger restraints were not analyzed for their effectiveness in restraining riders. Through the investigation, officials determined the restraints were improper, defective and improperly maintained. Experts said a correct system would have consisted of rigid overhead shoulder bars with a locking lap restraint.
Experts said the slide's design guaranteed that rafts would go airborne occasionally and could severely injure or kill riders, court documents say. Engineers found that rafts weighing between 400-550 pounds would likely go airborne at the crest of the second hill. This happened a week before the slide opened.
Investigators said Henry, Schooley and Miles all allegedly knew about the problem before the slide opened to the public.
According to the indictment, there is video evidence of Henry and Schooley in a raft going airborne during their personal test. Knowing these problems, Henry and Schooley began experimenting with brake systems, court documents say. They also allegedly started running tests at night in secret.
Engineers then installed metal bars directly above the known flight path of rafts that were flying off of the ride.
Two days before the slide opened to the public, Schooley signed Verruckt's commissioning document certifying, "the ride is safe, operational and ready for public use provided it is used in accordance with the owner's manual."
The indictment says designers decided riders should be at least 14 years old to ride the slide. The night before the slide's grand opening, that rule was eliminated, and stickers were placed over the age restriction on posted signs.
A month after the slide opened, the indictment says Henry allegedly received a report saying Verruckt was unfinished and unsafe. The water slide remained open.
Over the next two years, 11 other injuries -- not including Caleb's death and the injuries of the two women he rode with -- were documented. People from 14 to 46 years old suffered injuries such as slipped spinal discs, concussions, broken toes and more.
Court documents say Miles was aware of these injuries and still didn't order the ride to be shut down. Officials also believe Miles lied to an investigator when he claimed he knew of no injuries before Caleb's death. The indictment alleges Miles encouraged lifeguards who witnessed problems with the ride to change their stories in company reports.
Additionally, Miles allegedly avoided or delayed repairs on Verruckt that would have shut it down during the park's active season, even when those repairs involved safety systems. Court documents say the water slide had extensive rust and corrosion.
Maintenance workers repaired the broken conveyors immediately, according to court documents, but disregarded the deteriorating brake system -- even after it completely failed 10 days before killing Caleb Schwab.
Miles was allegedly had 21 written staff reports advising him that Verruckt's brake system was in the process of failure. Ten days before the fatal incident, a seasonal manager finally heeded the various reports and flagged the brake system as an urgent priority level 1 maintenance issue. Rides that have a priority level 1 maintenance issue are not supposed to operate until repaired.
Miles chose to continue operating the ride, and no repairs were made, court documents say.
In 2016, Miles received a report about "Raft B," the raft that Caleb would later ride on, which said it ran fast and rough. The raft was taken out of circulation in June because it kept injuring its riders. But court documents say the raft almost immediately went back into service.
After Caleb's death, Miles told KCK police he was not aware of any complaints about the slide.
One of the lifeguards Miles allegedly coerced into writing a coached statement came forward and told police of Miles' alleged efforts to cover up a June 2016 incident. Several people also independently corroborated Miles' cover-up efforts.
No charges have been filed against Schooley or Henry.
Schlitterbahn released the following statement after the water park was indicted:
"We’ve reviewed the indictment against Schlitterbahn Kansas City and Tyler Miles and we plan on contesting the allegations. Since the date of the incident we have worked closely with law enforcement; at no time have we withheld evidence; at no time have we altered evidence. The indictment uses quoted statements from a reality TV show that was scripted for dramatic effect that in no way reflects the design and construction of the ride.
"The safety of our Schlitterbahn guests and employees has been at the forefront of our culture throughout our 40 years of operations. Many of us rode Verruckt regularly, as did our children and grandchildren. We have faith in the justice system and are confident that when we finally have an opportunity to defend ourselves, it will be clear that this was an accident. We stand by our team and will fight these charges."
Schlitterbahn will tear down the water slide once a court grants it permission following the investigation.