On August 7, 2016, 10-year-old Caleb Thomas Schwab was decapitated while riding a waterslide at Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City. Two adult women riding in the same raft were also seriously injured.
On March 21, 2018 a Grand Jury in Wydotte County, Kansas issued an indictment containing 20 counts against the Waterpark and its Director of Operations, Tyler Austin Miles. The indictment includes felony charges of Involuntary Manslaughter, Aggravated Endangering A Child, Aggravated Battery, and Concealing Evidence. The indictment stems from numerous cover-ups of ride malfunctions and injuries, including incidents involving the same raft in which Caleb was riding.
Caleb’s family also brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the companies responsible for creating the waterpark, safety consultants, the general contractor, and the manufacturer of the raft.
In May of 2017, it was reported that Caleb’s family settled the lawsuit, in what is believed to be the largest settlement of a wrongful death case involving a minor in either Kansas or Missouri. The total settlement amount of $19,732,125 was split between four defendants. The two companies associated with the Schlitterbahn water park were responsible for $14,000,000. The general contractor behind the slide was to contribute $5,000,000. The raft manufacturer was on the hook for $500,000. The National Aquatics Safety Company, which consulted on the slide, owed $232,125.
The two adult women who sustained facial injuries and bone fractures also received settlements from the park.
After the incident, investigations found other riders had experienced similar problems with the rafts going airborne, as well as problems with the straps meant to keep riders secured to the raft. Whistleblowers within the water park company then began to come forward, revealing that Schlitterbahn officials had covered up similar incidents in the past.
Experts in amusement park design and safety inspected the ride and found physical evidence indicating that other rafts had become airborne, and caused collisions with the netting and hoops. The experts found that the design and operation of the ride complied with few, if any, industry safety standards.
Based on this knowledge, Detectives from the Kansas City Police Department, agents of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and agents from the Kansas Attorney General’s Office embarked on a criminal investigation.
The investigation found that during the 6 month operational lifespan of the park between the grand opening and Caleb’s death, there were 13 documented instances of similar injury causing collisions. These other injuries included; concussions, slipped spinal disks, lacerations, broken bones, neck pain, and whiplash. The particular raft involved in Caleb’s collision had been linked to 4 of these other incidents. This raft, Raft B, had at numerous times, been removed from circulation for inspection, but had always found its way back into circulation, even when staff was unable to determine the cause of malfunctions. The investigation uncovered that the park’s Director of Operations, Tyler Austin Miles had attempted to cover up previous reports of accidents. In one instance, Miles forced a teenage lifeguard who had witnessed a collision to sign a coached statement omitting how the collision had occurred. Miles also ordered the park medical staff to alter their medical reports.
The criminal charges are still pending.