KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A Cameron woman is lucky to be alive today after she was injured on the Sclitterbahn water slide that later killed a 10-year-old boy.
“I was very excited about going there and celebrating my birthday,” Brittany Hawkins said.
On June 16, 2015, the Cameron woman was ecstatic about celebrating her 21st birthday at Schlitterbahn Water Park with friends. She was especially excited to ride the Verruckt, what was hailed as the world's tallest water slide at the time.
“I was actually put in the back of the three-seat raft. I mean I was excited, and we had to wait a couple of minutes to go down. Overall, I was excited to ride it,” Hawkins told FOX4’s Robert Townsend on Friday.
But just seconds after climbing a mountain of stairs, the former Schlitterbahn lifeguard would regret riding Verruckt.
“I got into the raft, and they released the gates, let our raft go down and during the fall of that first hill, all of a sudden, the raft went airborne, and I was actually thrown up and my seatbelt came off," the now-23-year-old said. "I was terrified. We’re going down the hill on this thing, and I just keep trying to get my balance in the raft, and by that time I’d gotten stuck. But I was sideways, and we were going up that little hill, that second hill, and the gravity again lifted the raft and went flying down -- and that’s when I went crashing down on my back, and I couldn’t move.”
She suffered serious back and neck injuries as a result.
“It was very scary," Hawkins said. "I got to the bottom, and I was freaking out, and the lifeguard came running. The manager came running, and they got me out. I went to the hospital in pain. I had three split discs in my back, and that’s still giving me trouble today. My doctor told me I should have surgery, but so far I haven’t."
Hawkins knows she could have died, which is unfortunately what happened to 10-year-old Caleb Schwab a year later. The young boy suffered a neck injury after the raft he was riding went airborne and hit netting and a metal rod above.
On Friday, Schlitterbahn and one of its former executives were indicted on numerous charges, including involuntary manslaughter, in connection to Caleb's death and more than a dozen other people who were injured on the water slide.
Even now, Hawkins says she still has nightmares about the ride and she still can't stop thinking about Caleb Schwab.
“Yes, I still have nightmares," Hawkins said. "It’s something to think about, especially after seeing there was a death on it. It could have been me. It could have been anybody that was injured on that slide. My prayers definitely go out to Caleb’s family, and I can’t imagine what they are going through. My heart breaks for them. He was just an innocent boy.”
Many in the KCK community had mixed reactions to the indictment.
Some people FOX4 spoke with were shocked to learn of the serious nature of the charges, ranging from battery to manslaughter. Some, like Jamie Russell, weren't as surprised that charges were filed.
“It’s a cover up, and I kind of had a feeling there was a big cover up out there anyways when all this happened,” she said.
While some feel the charges are warranted, others think this is a tragic accident, and it’s hard to blame just one or two people.
“Why aren't the CEOs of Schliterbahn being charged with anything?" said one man FOX4 spoke with. "They`re the ones that developed and built this and engineered this. And why aren't Kansas' laws more stringent for amusement parks? That's part of the reason why Schlitterbahn was built on the Kansas side instead of Missouri because Kansas laws are less stringent.”
FOX4's Shayla Patrick spoke with a long-time Schlitterbahn season ticket holder who said he enjoys going to the park, but hopes these charges lead to a change.
“I'd really like the ride to be torn down and possibly a memorial for Caleb, and I'd like this to be a message for amusement parks everywhere that you need to make sure that accidents like these just simply don't happen,” he said.
And while many said they want to see justice served to whoever is found responsible, they don't want the park to go under.
“I don't think that they should close the whole park because it is a place where families go, and it’s a good thing for the community," Brooklyn Bockover said. "Maybe the best option would just be to close that slide down that way no one else can get hurt."
The Verruckt was permanently closed after the fatal incident and will be torn down once a court grants the park permission following the investigation. This summer, the water park is set to open on May 25.