The designers and operators of a Kansas waterslide hyped as the world's tallest knew the ride posed substantial safety risks and that it had severely injured others before a 10-year-old boy was decapitated on the slide in 2016, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Friday.
The 47-page indictment, obtained by the Kansas City Star, alleges that the Schlitterbahn Kansas City water park and the designers of the 168-foot-tall Verrückt waterslide rushed the ride into use “in a spur-of-the-moment bid to impress producers” of a cable TV show and lacked the technical expertise to properly design it.
The indictment says that the slide's design "violated nearly all aspects of the longstanding industry safety standards." Most notably, the design "guaranteed that rafts would occasionally go airborne in a manner that could severely injure or kill the occupants."
Because of this, the slide was redesigned, but the problem was never fixed.
"[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," Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeffrey Wayne Henry said in internal documents, according to the indictment. "I could die going down this ride."
On Aug. 7, 2016, two years after the ride opened and after 11 others were injured, 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was decapitated and two adult women were severely injured when their raft went airborne and collided with overhead hoops and netting attached to the slide.
"This child's death and the rapidly growing list of injuries were foreseeable and expected outcomes," the indictment said. "Verrückt's designers and operators knew that Verrückt posted a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death or severe bodily harm."
The grand jury charged the water park and its former operations director, Tyler Miles, with 19 and 20 felony counts, respectively, including one count of involuntary manslaughter, 12 counts of aggravated battery and five counts of aggravated endangering a child.
Miles surrendered to authorities Friday morning and was later released on bond, according to the Star.
Miles' lawyers maintained their client's innocence in a statement to BuzzFeed News, adding that suggestions that Schwab's death was foreseeable "are simply not true."
"Not only had Tyler ridden the slide numerous times, but, as the State is aware, he had scheduled his wife, to ride it on the day of the accident," Miles' lawyers said in a statement. "These are not the actions of someone who believed the ride to be dangerous."
In a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News, a Schlitterbahn spokesperson said water park officials have reviewed the indictment and plan to contest the allegations.
"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 Verrückt regularly, as did our children and grandchildren," spokesperson Winter Prosapio said. "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."
The indictment also alleges that throughout law enforcement’s investigation into Schwab’s death, operators attempted to conceal evidence, delaying those efforts.
Prosapio disputed the allegation.
“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,” she said in the statement. "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."