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Water Park Co-Owner Faces Charges in Boy's Slide Death has partnered with LexisNexis to bring you this content.

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The Union Leader (Manchester, NH)


In the years before he opened the world's tallest waterslide -- a 17-story record-setter that towered over a Kansas amusement park -- people in the industry called Jeff Henry a visionary.

Now, after a child was decapitated on Henry's Verrückt ride and investigators say they found signs of rushed construction and covered-up injuries, prosecutors are calling Henry something else:


Henry, who owned the Schlitterbahn water park and several others with his siblings, was arrested Monday in Texas' Cameron County on murder charges related to the death of Caleb Schwab on the Verrückt ride. Verrückt is the German word for "insane."

The Schlitterbahn company and Tyler Austin Miles, the former director of operations, have already been charged with involuntary manslaughter and several counts of aggravated battery, aggravated endangering a child and interference with law enforcement in the Verrückt investigation, according to an indictment in Wyandotte County, Kan., that was unsealed last week.

A hybrid roller-coaster and waterslide ride, Verrückt was Henry's brainchild. Investigators say he decided to build it in a "spur-of-the-moment bid to impress producers of Travel Channel's Xtreme Waterparks series."

He and a longtime friend and business partner, John Schooley, were the chief designers, the indictment says, even though neither had any credentials in mathematics, physics or engineering.

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On Verrückt, groups of riders first zoomed down a nearly vertical, 168-foot main descent. Then they ascended 50 feet above the ground, propelled by inertia and "a series of high-pressure water blasters," according to the indictment. But in some instances, instead of sliding straight down, the rafts went airborne -- a major design flaw that investigators say the company had known about, tried unsuccessfully to fix, and eventually ignored.

Most of the slide is covered with a net suspended by metal hoops, an industry-defying addition that investigators say hints at Verrückt's danger.

The indictment says that the ride creators' calculations were off and that they knew it. Some of the rafts would go airborne before the second drop, causing riders to strike the net or the suspended metal hoops that held it.

The injuries piled up.

In the two years that Verrückt was in operation, 13 people were injured, many after the rafts left the slide, according to court documents.

A month after the ride opened, a 14-year-old received a concussion, the court papers say. The next summer, another teen was concussed and a 20-year-old woman suffered a slipped spinal disk. The woman, Brittany Hawkins, was a lifeguard who knew the park's operator and told him she was injured after her raft went airborne.

The indictment accuses the operator, Miles, of intercepting incident reports from lifeguards and destroying witness statements -- then coaching the guards to write statements that omitted crucial damaging details about Verrückt.

Caleb climbed into the front seat of one of the ride's rafts on Aug. 7, 2016, which the park had dubbed Elected Official Day.

By the end of the minute-long ride, Caleb, the son of Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab, was dead after being decapitated. Two women riding with him suffered cuts and fractures. Their raft had collided with a metal pole that held the net.

Investigators uncovered a string of negligence that they say led back to Henry.

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March 28, 2018


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