Lawyers argue to throw out criminal case against Schlitterbahn owners, operators

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Defense attorneys argued Friday to have the criminal charges dismissed in the case against the owners and operators of the Schlitterbahn.

Prosecutors have charged several people at the KCK water park, alleging that shoddy planning and maintenance led to 10-year-old Caleb Schwab’s death on the Verruckt water slide.

But Friday, lawyers argued that prosecutors abused the grand jury process.

The defendants claimed a Travel Channel video about Verruckt, which was shown to the grand jury, gave false impressions about how the attraction operated. The defense claimed the TV show was scripted and fictionalized for entertainment value.

Attorney Jeff Morris said the video deliberately shows flying boats. Henry and Sons Construction claimed wheels and additional weight were added to the rafts to make them go faster and get airborne because, lawyers argued, that created sensational thrills for the television show.

According to the defense, assistant attorneys general never informed jurors that what they watched was a dramatization, though it showed boats shooting up in a similar manner to the one that killed Caleb. The 10-year-old died in 2016 while riding the 17-story slide that was billed as the world’s largest.

In the video, jurors watched Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry say, "Our goal on this ride is to fly in the air." His lawyer claims that was a scripted line, part of the entertainment production.

The state argued that it's for fact finders, a jury, to determine what's true and what's not, and said the Travel Channel video should be presented at trial.

Defendants also claimed jurors repeatedly were told that the water slide was not built to standards established by the ASTM International.

As a result, jurors may have reasonably concluded the water park was breaking the law.

But Verruckt didn't have to meet those standards. Kansas law did not require it until 2017.

Lawyers also argued the grand jury shouldn't have heard testimony about another death at a Schlitterbahn park in Texas because it's not relevant to what happened here.

Attorneys questioned why grand jurors were shown a video of Caleb's death and gruesome photos of the boy's body. They claimed the only reason for doing so is to improperly influence the grand jury's decision to indict.

Judge Robert Burns said he's taking these motions under advisement. It's not known when he may issue a ruling.

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