A Kansas judge dropped charges Friday against the owners of the world's tallest waterslide after a child was decapitated on it, local media reported.
Caleb Schwab was just 10 years old when he was killed while riding the 168-foot-tall "Verrückt" slide in Kansas City's Schlitterbahn water park in 2016.
Caleb, the son of Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, was decapitated after his raft went airborne and collided into equipment attached to the slide. Two adult women on the raft were also severely injured.
A grand jury indicted park owners in March over the boy's death, alleging they were aware that the ride posed significant safety risks.
But on Friday, Wyandotte County Judge Robert Burns dropped the charges against the slide's owners, according to the Kansas City Star and Fox 4 KC, saying the case had been "irreparably tainted" with misleading evidence that could sway the grand jury.
"The court has grave doubts as to whether the irregularities and improprieties improperly influenced the grand jury and ultimately bolstered its decision to indict these defendants," the judge said. "Quite simply, these defendants were not afforded the due process protections and fundamental fairness Kansas law requires."
This evidence in question reportedly included clips from a Travel Channel show that defense attorneys said was dramatized to play up the ride's danger.
“Upon viewing the video, the court concludes this exhibit was not a likeness of what it purported to represent,” Burns reportedly said, “and depicted a staged demonstration for entertainment purposes, not a factual depiction of the design and construction of the water slide.”
Defense attorneys also criticized the admittance of expert testimony that claimed the ride owners neglected to meet the American Society of Testing and Materials' industry standards when building Verrückt, as these standards were not required by state law when it was built.
The expert also referred to the death of an employee at another Schlitterbahn park in Texas, which Burns called "wholly unrelated" to the case.
In March, Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, former operations director Tyler Miles, designer John Schooley, and Henry & Sons Construction Company Inc. were indicted by a grand jury for charges that included second-degree murder. Miles and the park's management were also charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The indictment against Miles said the slide "posed a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death or severely bodily harm" and that the child's death was therefore "foreseeable and expected."
"Verrückt suffered from a long list of dangerous design flaws," the indictment read. "However, the most obvious and potentially lethal flaw was that Verrückt's design guaranteed that rafts would occasionally go airborne in a manner that could severely injure or kill the occupants."
In the Friday ruling, Judge Burns noted the tragic nature of the case.
“I obviously recognize that the circumstances and events giving rise to these indictments are indisputably tragic,” Burns said. “A young child’s life was lost and his troubling death was mourned by family, friends, and the entire Kansas City community and beyond.”
Jeff Morris, attorney for Henry & Sons Construction Company, echoed Burns' statement and said they were "pleased the judge agreed with our arguments."
“We have consistently said that the fact that it’s a tragedy doesn’t mean it’s a crime," Morris said. "And I think we pretty persuasively indicated that the manner in which the state tried to establish a criminal offense was not done the right way and the court agreed."
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt questioned Friday's ruling, telling BuzzFeed News he is "obviously disappointed and respectfully disagree" with the court's decision and will "take a fresh look at the evidence ... to determine the best course forward.”
Schlitterbahn spokesperson Winter Prosapio told BuzzFeed News they "welcome today’s decision which dismissed the charges against all defendants."
"We are thankful for all the support and encouragement we’ve received," Prosapio said.