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Family of boy killed on Verrückt water slide reaches settlement with Schlitterbahn

trizzo@kcstar.com

How Schlitterbahn’s Verruckt was built in Wyandotte County

What has become clearer since the tragic death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab is that from nearly the moment the Verruckt was proposed in Wyandotte County, its path to completion was all but assured with almost no outside officials casting a critica
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What has become clearer since the tragic death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab is that from nearly the moment the Verruckt was proposed in Wyandotte County, its path to completion was all but assured with almost no outside officials casting a critica

The family of the 10-year-old Olathe boy killed last summer at Schlitterbahn water park has reached a civil settlement with the park’s owner.

Caleb Schwab was riding the Verrückt water slide in Kansas City, Kan., last August when he was killed.

On Wednesday, his parents and surviving siblings filed a petition in Johnson County District Court asking the court to approve a wrongful death settlement with the owners and operators of the park and also with the manufacturer of the raft Caleb was riding on when he was killed.

After a brief hearing, District Judge Thomas Sutherland approved the settlement.

Exhibits outlining the terms of the settlement were filed with the judge, but they were later withdrawn by the attorneys and were not available in court records.

“In the near future we will be allowed to disclose further specifics regarding the settlement,” Michael Rader, an attorney for the Schwab family, said in a written statement.

The incident was also the subject of an investigation by Kansas City, Kan., police to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing.

A police spokesman said Wednesday that the investigation had been completed and submitted to the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office.

A spokesman for the district attorney said the case was sent to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. The state office is reviewing the case, according to a spokeswoman.

Derek MacKay, an attorney representing the owners and operators of Schlitterbahn, said Wednesday that he could not comment on the civil settlement. He referred questions to Rader.

Christopher Turney, an attorney for the raft manufacturer, also declined to comment “out of respect for the Schwab family and the other attorneys involved.”

Caleb’s father, Scott Schwab, is a Kansas legislator, but he was not in his Topeka office Wednesday, according to a staff member.

In approving the settlement, the judge found the settlement was “fair, reasonable, valid, just and equitable,” and was “in the best interests of all plaintiffs,” including Caleb’s siblings.

A steady stream of mourners flowed into the Life Mission Church in Olathe on Friday for the memorial service for 10-year-old Caleb Thomas Schwab, who died Sunday while riding the world’s tallest water slide at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansa

Wednesday’s agreement allows the Schwab family to pursue claims against other “potentially culpable and liable parties,” according to the settlement petition.

That could include any possible claims against the designer and builder of the slide.

In his statement, Rader said that “additional claims are being pursued against others.”

“The Schwab family remains determined to hold all those responsible for this tragedy accountable, while doing all they can to ensure this never happens again to another family,” Rader said.

Schlitterbahn announced in November that it would permanently close Verrückt in light of the tragedy.

Experts had questioned the safety of the 168-foot, 17-story-drop Verrückt.

Caleb was riding the slide when he was killed Aug. 7 during a family visit to the park.

He 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.

On the slide, riders plunged down one slope, glided up and over another hump and then shot down a final slope. It opened in 2014.

Some riders told The Star after Caleb’s death that they had experienced problems on Verrückt.

One rider, Dawn Gentry of Wichita, said she rode the water slide with her daughter in July, more than a week before Caleb’s death. Gentry said as they approached the slide’s second drop, their raft flew into the air.

Other riders complained about harnesses coming off during the ride.

Caleb had been in the ride’s three-person raft with two adult women who were unrelated to him. The women were injured but later released after being treated at area hospitals.

An attorney representing those women said he could not comment Wednesday.

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 Verrückt raft while placing heavier riders toward the back.

No details of the settlement were released Wednesday.

An attorney familiar with Kansas open records laws said that if a public agency was involved in the agreement, officials could not keep the settlement terms confidential.

But attorney Max Kautsch, a Kansas open records expert, said that obtaining Wednesday’s settlement documents would be much more difficult because it is an agreement between private entities.

Someone seeking the documents could file a request to intervene in the case and argue that the information represents a vital public interest, Kautsch said.

Schlitterbahn’s tallest water slide is guided by energy, acceleration and the laws of physics.

Laura Bauer of The Kansas City Star contributed to this report.

Tony Rizzo: 816-234-4435, @trizzkc

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar

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