Kansas finds 11 violations at water park where boy died in 2016
A 10-year-old boy died at the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City on a 17-story waterslide when the raft he was riding went airborne and hit an overhead loop
TOPEKA, Kan.—A recent state inspection found 11 alleged violations of amusement park regulations at a Kansas water park where a boy died in 2016, with one raising questions about whether a ride’s parts are being replaced as quickly as recommended.
The Kansas Department of Labor made an audit of the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City public Tuesday, a day after issuing a notice of violations to the park. The department sent a team to the park last week to review inspection safety signs.
The department said the park must address dozens of issues raised by the audit and covered by the 11 counts of alleged violations. But it also said those issues “constitute a first offence” and issued a warning.
The water park company criticized the audit. Spokeswoman Winter Prosapio said in an email that it contained “misleading and false information” and that Schlitterbahn would challenge details in a letter to the department later this week that it plans to make public.
“Our commitment to safety remains our highest priority,” she said.
The Kansas City park has been closed as planned since the end of its 2017 season last fall and is scheduled to reopen Friday. The department’s notice did not suggest a move to keep the park or its rides from opening or that the agency would use its power to impose a $1,000 fine for each violation.
But department spokeswoman Barbara Hersh said state Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office has been made aware of the audit, and the department is “in discussions” with Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree about the findings. Hersh would not comment further, and a spokesman for the district attorney did not immediately return telephone and email messages.
The notice said, “Schlitterbahn representatives did not dispute the audit findings.”
Prosapio said Schlitterbahn is addressing the bulk of the “administrative, record keeping, and documentation issues” raised by the audit and is challenging its accuracy in “several important respects.”
Department of Labor officials promised in March to conduct a full audit of the Schlitterbahn park’s records after a local grand jury issued multiple criminal indictments over the death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab in August 2016. He was decapitated while riding a 17-story Verruckt waterslide, which was billed as the world’s tallest and has been shut down since his death.
Schlitterbahn has described the boy’s death as a tragic accident. He was the son of state Rep. Scott Schwab, of the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, and his death prompted lawmakers to strengthen the state’s regulation of amusement park rides in 2017.
One count in the department’s notice deals with the park’s Soaring Eagle ZipLine, a “dry” ride that pulls riders in a two-seat chair across the park, 100 feet above the ground. The audit said inspection checklists, trainer qualification and other records weren’t available for inspection and added that it has not replaced parts as recommended by the manufacturer.
“The main drive cable has not been replaced” as “described in the manufacturer manual,” another audit finding said.
Prosapio responded: “The report found no issues with the mechanical function of our rides.”
Other findings in the audit said safety signs in some park areas were not adequate, records were not available for review and some operating and training manuals were not complete.
The co-owner of the Texas-based Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts, one of the Verruckt slide’s designers and the Kansas City park’s former operations director all face numerous felony charges over Caleb Schwab’s death, along with the company that built the slide. The charges included reckless second-degree murder against the company co-owner and ride designer.
A Wyandotte County judge has a July 12 pretrial hearing scheduled in their cases; all of the defendants have pleaded not guilty to all charges.