The Verruckt water slide, a 17-story reminder of the horrific death of a 10-year-old boy in 2016, is expected to come down shortly after Labor Day.
“It’s about time,” said David Alvey, Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan., mayor.
An attorney representing an affiliate of Schlitterbahn, the Texas company that built a water park in western Wyandotte County, said on Thursday that the company plans to begin tearing down the slide about a week after Labor Day. Labor Day is the last day that Schlitterbahn is open for the 2018 season.
“I think we are all in agreement that the slide can come down,” said Melanie Morgan, who is representing KC Waterpark Management LLC, an affiliated corporate entity of Schlitterbahn. “We’re prepared to make arrangements for that to happen.”
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The process, Morgan said, is “fairly complicated” and is expected to take three weeks.
Morgan announced the plan to tear down Verruckt during a court hearing on Thursday involving several Schlitterbahn employees who face criminal charges in the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab.
Robert Burns, the Wyandotte County judge overseeing the criminal case, was in agreement that the slide could come down.
Caleb, the son of Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab, died on Aug. 7, 2016, when his raft went airborne on Verruckt and he struck a metal pole that supported a netting system meant to keep riders on the slide.
“As a family continuing to heal, we welcome the decision of the court today,” Scott Schwab said in a statement. “This is an important step to our family and believe it is to this community as well.”
Prior to Caleb’s death, the ride was heralded as the world’s tallest water slide after it opened in 2014 and had attracted international publicity for the water park.
But the Kansas attorney general has accused Schlitterbahn, its co-owners and others associated with the creation of Verruckt of recklessly designing a dangerous ride while ignoring industry safety standards and covering up evidence that other riders had suffered injuries prior to Caleb’s death.
Jeff Henry, co-owner of Schlitterbahn; John Schooley, the lead designer of Verruckt; and Henry & Sons Construction, the general contractor on the ride, all face second-degree murder charges in connection with Caleb’s death, as well as aggravated battery and aggravated child endangerment charges.
Tyler Miles, a former director of operations for the KCK water park, faces an involuntary manslaughter charge and interfering with law enforcement charges related to the Kansas attorney general’s accusation that he misled investigators and didn’t disclose documents sought by investigators. KC Waterpark Management faces the same charges.
John Zalsman and David Hughes, both maintenance workers at the park, face charges of misleading investigators.
All defendants, who have pleaded not guilty and deny criminal wrongdoing, were present during Thursday’s hearing.
The Schwab family settled with Schlitterbahn and other companies involved in making Verruckt. In all, Schlitterbahn and others paid nearly $20 million to the family.
Schlitterbahn and others also reached a settlement with two women who were in the raft with Caleb and suffered significant injuries. Those settlement terms were not disclosed, but the women had insisted on Schlitterbahn agreeing to tear down Verruckt before entertaining any settlement discussions.
Schlitterbahn had wanted to tear down the slide in an announcement just before Thanksgiving in 2016. But a court order in both Wyandotte and Shawnee counties stopped the company from taking Verruckt down as an investigation continued.
Jerry Goldstein, an attorney for Henry, said the defense team would still seek to preserve some parts of the ride for the criminal cases.
Thursday’s hearing took up several issues aside from Verruckt coming down.
Attorneys for the defendants are laying the groundwork for an attack on how the Kansas attorney general handled the grand jury.
Grand juries, which are held in secret, are rarely used in state court cases in Kansas. Attorneys for the defendants have filed motions alleging improper grand jury proceedings in the Schlitterbahn case, but the motions are filed under seal and were not discussed publicly on Thursday.
However, defense attorneys said that several pages of grand jury transcripts that they have received from the Kansas attorney general have been redacted.
Burns agreed to look over the redactions to determine which, if any, of the redacted documents should be turned over to defense counsel with some or all of the redactions removed.
Burns also granted motions by several defendants asking the Kansas attorney general to be more specific about the charges against their clients.
“I don’t know how we could get more particular,” said Shon Qualseth, assistant Kansas attorney general.
The indictments say that industry standards published by the American Society of Testing and Materials were ignored by Schlitterbahn as it designed Verruckt.
Justin Johnston, an attorney representing Schooley, said ASTM standards were not incorporated in Kansas law when Caleb was killed. That happened in 2017 after the Kansas Legislature beefed up the Kansas Amusement Ride Act. At the time of Caleb’s death, Kansas had weak regulations of amusement park rides.
Tom Bath, an attorney for Miles, argued that the indictment didn’t specify what records his client failed to turn over to investigators or what statements he made that were misleading.
Burns ordered the Kansas attorney general to file what is called a bill of particulars, which goes into more specifics about the charges alleged against the defendants.