Questions remain about death of 10-year-old boy on water slide
The amusement park ride that killed a 10-year-old boy will never operate again.
Billed as the world’s tallest water slide, Schlitterbahn Kansas City Water Park’s Verrückt will be demolished after the investigation into the death of Caleb Thomas Schwab is complete, according to a statement released Tuesday from Schlitterbahn.
Caleb was killed Aug. 7 while riding the water slide. The 10-year-old was the second oldest of Michele and Scott Schwab’s four sons. The family had headed to the park after church to enjoy a free visit on a day celebrating elected officials in Kansas. Caleb’s father is a Republican Kansas House representative from Olathe.
Caleb was found dead at the bottom of the slide with what police termed a “fatal neck injury.” One witness told The Star after the incident that she could tell the boy’s neck was broken.
Kansas City, Kan., police are investigating the Schlitterbahn case, as they would in any death, to determine if a crime occurred. No information will be released until the investigation is complete.
The statement from the water park announcing the ride’s destruction read:
“All of us at Schlitterbahn have been heartbroken over the tragedy that occurred on Verrückt. In our 50 years of providing an environment for families and friends to gather, we’ve never experienced this kind of devastating event. The safety of our staff and our guests is our top priority. We are parents and grandparents ourselves and many of us have ridden Verrückt with our own children and grandchildren over the years it operated.
“Once the investigation is concluded and we are given permission by the court, Verrückt will be decommissioned — closed permanently and the slide removed from the tower. In our opinion, it is the only proper course of action following this tragedy.
“We will, at some point in the future, announce what will be built in its place.”
On the 168-foot, 17-story-drop Verrückt, riders plunge down one slope, glide up and over another hump and then shoot down a final slope. It opened in 2014 amid a well-oiled publicity campaign that attracted media from around the globe to Kansas City, Kan. Mayor Mark Holland was one of the first to try the slide.
On Tuesday, Holland said he was encouraged by Schlitterbahn’s decision to close the slide and by its communication with Caleb’s family. Attempts by The Star to reach Caleb’s father, Scott, for comment were unsuccessful.
“I also appreciate that Schlitterbahn officials informed the Schwab family in advance of publicizing their intentions,” Holland said. “We continue to keep the Schwabs, and all others affected by this tragedy, in our thoughts and prayers, especially as the holiday season approaches.”
Former Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Carol Marinovich said she was in agreement with the closure.
“I’m glad they’re doing that if for no other reason than the family,” Marinovich said.
USA Today, ESPN, “The Today Show” and “NBC Nightly News” joined The Star and virtually all other local news outlets in touting the slide when it opened.
For most of two years, the slide seemed to work without many issues. However, visitors told The Star after Caleb’s death that they experienced problems on Verrückt, mainly poorly secured restraints and rafts going before or near the second hump.
Dawn Gentry, of Wichita, rode the water slide with her daughter in July, more than a week before Caleb’s death. As they approached the slide’s second drop, Gentry said, their raft flew into the air, concerning the workers at the end of the ride. Gentry was one of several people who told The Star this summer about mishaps on the Verrückt.
When told Tuesday evening that the slide would eventually be torn down, Gentry said that’s what she was hoping would happen.
“I think that’s good for that family and everybody,” Gentry told The Star. “I would have been surprised if they wouldn’t have done that. ... I just thought that was the necessary step. I’m glad it’s happening.”
Other riders complained about harnesses coming off during the ride.
On July 26, Paul Oberhauser’s shoulder strap came loose at the bottom of the first slope, said his wife, Erin, of Omaha, Neb. When he got off the ride, he told workers, who responded, “Oh, that’s not good.”
Since Caleb’s death, Erin Oberhauser said her husband has spoken to a detective investigating the incident. And she has found herself saying a prayer for the young boy and his family.
“I think it will be nice to tear it down,” Erin Oberhauser said Tuesday evening. “Nobody will have to look at it. It’s a sad reminder, although it is also a reminder to celebrate his life as well.”
Caleb’s death hit many hard, especially his friends and teachers at Heritage Christian Academy, where he would have been a fifth-grader this year.
At Heritage, where Caleb was one of roughly 30 children in his grade, the boy was known to ask deep questions, enjoy modern Christian music and be pretty good at telling a joke.
In the weeks after his death, the school brought in comfort dogs to help the children as they tried to deal with the death of their friend.
Caleb and the two women weighed a combined 545 pounds. Police said 73-pound Caleb sat in the front seat of the raft, while a woman weighing 197 pounds and another woman weighing 275 pounds occupied the next two seats, respectively.
Physics and engineering experts have questioned the wisdom of loading lighter passengers toward the front of the raft that slides down the Verrückt water slide while placing heavier riders toward the back.
The Star’s Steve Vockrodt and Diane Stafford contributed to this report.