Eleven riders reported injuries on Verruckt before Caleb Schwab died, indictment says

Riders started reporting injuries soon after the world's tallest water slide opened in July 2014.

Those reports and visits to the first aid station and outside doctors continued in the 182 days — over three summers — the ride was in operation at Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Two teenagers suffered concussions on Verruckt. Another slammed her head into her knees on the first drop and needed seven stitches across her right eyebrow. A man broke two toes. Several riders hurt their necks or suffered whiplash. Two riders — one in June 2015 and the other in August 2016 — ended up with injured spinal disks after a ride down the slide.

But it wasn't until a grand jury indictment was released Friday that the public knew the extent of injuries riders had suffered before Caleb Schwab died on Aug. 7, 2016. The 10-year-old Olathe boy was going down Verruckt when his raft went airborne and he was decapitated by a metal hoop that supported a netting system atop the ride. He had been seated in the front; two women in the raft with him were seriously injured.

From the summer Verruckt opened until two days before Caleb died, 11 injuries were reported to the park, according to Friday's indictment of Tyler Miles, a former director of operations for Schlitterbahn, and the water park company itself.

"The death of C.S. (Caleb Schwab) appeared at first to be an isolated and unforeseeable incident," the indictment said, "until whistleblowers from within Schlitterbahn's own ranks came forward and revealed that Schlitterbahn officials had covered up similar incidents in the past."

Several pages of the 47-page indictment detail the injuries of other riders. Those occurred after some rafts went airborne, after safety belts came loose or when rafts collided into a concrete wall at the end of the runout pool.

“These injuries were caused by airborne rafts or other aspects of Verruckt’s flawed design,” the indictment said.

More riders have told The Star that they experienced airborne rafts and broken safety straps and immediately told lifeguards what had happened, but didn't make a report. They weren't injured.

"They knew there was a problem and it wasn’t handled properly," said Jon Powell, of Hutchinson, Kan., whose daughter rode Verruckt three weeks before Caleb's death. The raft her family was in went airborne, causing managers to rush to them and see if they were OK. "It’s unfortunate for everyone but I’m glad the thing is closed and maybe this will lead to some sort of closure for the family.”

Seven weeks after the park opened, the first injury was recorded, according to the indictment.

On Aug. 31, 2014, a 14-year-old girl suffered a concussion. The indictment said when the girl’s raft entered the runout pool the raft "decelerated too rapidly." Her head went forward and then slammed back into the head rest. She was treated that day for a concussion, and according to the indictment, she has since suffered chronic neck pain, migraines and memory loss and was forced to withdraw from sports.

The next June, a 20-year-old woman injured her back and neck, described as "slipped spinal disks." As her raft went down the initial hill, the woman's "hook-and-loop" restraint came undone and she was thrown sideways in her seat. When her raft went over the second hill, the boat went airborne and her "face came within inches of the hoops and netting above the ride path."

Her raft eventually collided with the concrete wall at the end of the runout pool.

"She was in pain, disoriented, and unable to walk. Miles (the director of operations) responded to Verruckt. …," the indictment said. The woman "repeatedly told Miles that she was injured because the raft went airborne. After (she) signed her incident report, Miles disappeared from the first aid station taking (the) report with him.

"... The incident report which Miles took as he left the first aid station appears to be missing from the records."

Nearly a month later, in July 2015, a 23-year-old woman rode Verruckt in the front seat of a raft that had been repaired with duct tape. Her head was "whipped from side to side" during the ride and afterward she discovered that she could not move her neck. She went to the first aid station and reported that.

In June 2016, a 46-year-old man reported to the first aid station after his raft went airborne. The man's face and forehead collided with the overhead hoop and netting and then his raft crashed into the concrete wall at the end.

"The lifeguards at the bottom of the ride told (him) that the raft had gone way too fast," the indictment said. "The impact with the hoop and netting caused (the man's) right eye to swell shut for the rest of the day."

The lifeguards wrote reports of this incident and Miles intercepted those, according to the indictment.

"Miles destroyed these written witness statements," the indictment said. "Miles then forced the lifeguards to write coached statements which omitted any detail of how the injury had occurred. Miles then ordered the medical staff to alter their medical reports."

On July 3, 2016, about a month before Caleb's death, the hook-and-loop restraint strap came undone for another man during the ride. To keep himself from being ejected, the 42-year-old man said he held tight to the straps on each side of the raft and "dug his feet and toes into the corners of the raft."

At the end of the ride, the man was in pain. He had broken his second and third toes on his right foot.

He went to the first aid station to have his toes splinted. While there, the indictment says, a man came up to him and introduced himself as Verruckt's designer and builder.

The bearded man, who appeared to be in his mid-to-late 50s and wore glasses and a baseball cap, reportedly boasted that he and his friend had designed and built the slide together.

"Despite the fact (the rider) was obviously injured and in serious pain, Verruckt's designer continued bragging about his own achievements and his plan to build an even taller Verruckt at another park," the indictment said. "... The designer seemed totally unconcerned by the fact that (the rider) had broken his toes riding Verruckt moments earlier. "