Co-owner of Schlitterbahn faces charges over fatal 2016 incident on “Verruckt”

Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry arrested in Texas on Verruckt-related charges

Verruckt
Just before the Verruckt water slide began operating in July 2014, its designers, John Schooley (left) and Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, spoke about the challenges of opening the 17-story tall attraction. Monty Davis

Jeff Henry, the co-owner of Schlitterbahn, was arrested on Monday in Cameron County, Texas, on charges related to the 2016 death of a 10-year-old boy on a water slide in Kansas.

Officials in Cameron County, the southernmost county in Texas, said Henry was arrested on a Kansas warrant.

“He was arrested by U.S. Marshals out of Brownsville,” Texas, said Capt. Javier Reyna of the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office.

Schlitterbahn has a water park in South Padre Island, which is in the county where Henry was arrested. The U.S. Marshals Service is a federal law enforcement agency responsible for transporting prisoners across state lines.

The charges against Henry listed on the Cameron County jail database include 12 counts of aggravated battery and five counts of aggravated child endangerment.

The Kansas Attorney General’s Office, which has been investigating the Aug. 7, 2016, death of Caleb Schwab on Verruckt in Kansas City, Kan., was not immediately available for comment.

“Considering the allegations from Friday’s indictment, we were not surprised at the actions taken by the Attorney General to charge Jeff,” Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio said in a statement. “We as a company and as a family will fight these allegations and have confidence that once the facts are presented it will be clear that what happened on the ride was an unforeseeable accident.”

Henry, 62, was frequently referenced in a grand jury indictment unsealed on Friday that charged the Schlitterbahn Waterpark of Kansas City, Kan., and director of operations Tyler Austin Miles with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated endangerment of a child and aggravated battery.

Henry, who owns Schlitterbahn with his siblings, was described in the indictment as “visionary and designer of the Verruckt project,” a 17-story attraction that opened in 2014 as the world’s tallest water slide.

Caleb was killed in 2016 when a raft he was on with two other women went airborne and hit a metal pole that supported a netting system meant to keep riders from flying off the ride. Caleb died of decapitation, and two other women on the raft with him that afternoon suffered serious injuries.

Caleb was the son of Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab of Olathe.

“While we as a family continue to mourn and heal from Caleb’s passing, we wanted to again thank the community of Kansas City for its continued prayers and support,” said a statement Monday from Caleb’s family, issued by Kansas City attorneys Mike Rader and Todd Scharnhorst.

“While we have no control over the investigation, we have full faith and trust in Attorney General Derek Schmidt and his office as relates to last week’s indictments, as well as any other decisions that office may make going forward. Clearly the issues with Schlitterbahn go far beyond Caleb’s incident, and we know the Attorney General will take appropriate steps in the interest of public safety.”

The grand jury indictment said that Henry lacked the technical expertise needed to build Verruckt and ignored warnings from consultants who said the ride was not safe while he rushed a timeline to build a thrill ride meant to impress producers of a cable television show.

The indictment also described John Schooley, the lead designer of Verruckt, as similarly lacking credentials.

The indictment also said there were efforts, mostly focused on Miles, to cover up evidence of injuries that previous riders had suffered on Verruckt.

“This child’s death and the rapidly growing list of injuries were foreseeable and expected outcomes,” the indictment said. “Verruckt’s designers and operators knew that Verruckt posed a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death or severe bodily harm.”

A Schlitterbahn spokeswoman said she had no information about Schooley.

Schlitterbahn on Monday pushed back against the allegations in the grand jury indictment.
“During the civil matter, attorneys involved noted that we cooperated fully, provided thousands of documents, and that nothing was withheld or tampered with,” Prosapio said in a statement. “The secret Grand Jury never heard one word from us directly, nor were we allowed to provide contradictory evidence. And we have plenty.”

“In fact, the indictment presented is so full of false information that it has shocked the Kansas legal community,” the statement said.

On Monday, Tom Bath and Tricia Bath, attorneys representing Miles, also disputed the indictment’s allegations.

“The suggestions that (Caleb’s) death was foreseeable to Tyler Miles, that, with this knowledge Tyler ‘avoided or delayed repairs,’ and that Tyler ‘had covered up similar incidents’ are simply not true,” their statement said. “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. These are not the actions of someone who believed the ride to be dangerous.”

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