Schlitterbahn: A dream gone bad
Judge Robert Burns dropped charges against Schlitterbahn Waterpark of Kansas City, Kan., which was named as a defendant in a March grand jury indictment that accused the corporation and one of its employees of involuntary manslaughter and other charges.
Legally speaking, there's no such thing as Schlitterbahn Waterpark of Kansas City, Kan.
"I'm having a hard time seeing how we can keep a case open against an entity that does not exist," Burns said during a Wednesday hearing at the Wyandotte County Courthouse.
The Schlitterbahn park in KCK comprises two business entities: SVV 1, which owns the land on which the park was built, and KC Waterpark Management, which operates the water park.
Did the Kansas Attorney General's Office goof up by naming a nonexistent defendant?
Adam Zentner, the assistant Kansas attorney general leading the criminal case against Schlitterbahn, declined to answer questions after the hearing.
During the hearing, Zentner said he would go back to the grand jury to obtain an indictment against the proper corporate defendant. A new indictment is expected in about three weeks.
While not fatal to the Kansas attorney general's case, Wednesday's dismissal is an embarrassing development for a case that grabbed national headlines for its accusations of recklessness and carelessness on the part of five Schlitterbahn-related defendants in the development of a 17-story thrill ride.
Caleb Schwab, 10, was killed on Aug. 7, 2016, riding Verruckt when his raft went airborne and struck a metal pole that supported a netting system meant to keep riders from falling off the ride.
In March, a Wyandotte County grand jury led by the Kansas attorney general charged Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, Verruckt designer John Schooley and general contractor Henry & Sons Construction with second-degree murder, aggravated battery and aggravated child endangerment in connection to Caleb's death and injuries suffered by other riders.
Tyler Miles, formerly the director of operations for Schlitterbahn in KCK, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery, aggravated child endangerment and interfering with law enforcement. Miles is accused of covering up incidents of rider injuries that occurred prior to Caleb's death.
All the defendants have pleaded not guilty and deny criminal wrongdoing.
Also during Wednesday's hearing, Burns touched upon the issue of some day tearing down the Verruckt ride, which stands as a towering reminder of Caleb's death.
Defense attorneys said they want to review the Kansas attorney general's expert witness reports, which the attorney general has not yet made available.
Zentner said those would be ready in the middle of June.
It's not clear why the state's expert witnesses who testified before the grand jury do not yet have written reports ready to turn over to defense attorneys.
"I think everyone has an interest in seeing the slide taken down," said Jeff Morris, an attorney representing Henry & Sons Construction, the general contractor owned by Jeff Henry and his siblings.
"We're happy to have that discussion, but first we have to see the evidence we're accused of," said Tom Bath, an attorney for Miles.
Miles and Schooley were present during the hearing. Both men waived their right to a speedy trial, which means that the previously scheduled trial date of Sept. 10 won't happen.
Henry was not there. He's expected to come to Kansas City for a hearing next week.
The Kansas attorney general has asked that Henry's bond be increased from $500,000 to $750,000 after learning that a woman called 911 to report a threat that Henry allegedly made when he returned to New Braunfels, Texas, after making his first court appearance in KCK.
Henry confronted a woman who was on a property owned by his family, which had apparently been robbed and ransacked while Henry was away. According to a transcript of the 911 call, Henry went on an expletive-riddled tirade in which he made threats to the woman and her son.
Henry has not been arrested or charged in connection to that incident.