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Will Schlitterbahn water park open for 2019 season? Company won’t say

Verrückt waterslide down to the last pieces, two years after death of Caleb Schwab

More than two years after the death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab, workers are dismantling the last two sections of the 17-story Verrückt waterslide at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan.
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More than two years after the death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab, workers are dismantling the last two sections of the 17-story Verrückt waterslide at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan.

Schlitterbahn couldn’t say on Thursday whether it would open its Kansas City, Kan., water park in 2019, telling The Star “we don’t have any news” when asked if and when the attraction would open for the upcoming season.

Season passes for 2019 for that park were not available for sale Thursday on Schlitterbahn’s website, while customers could make those purchases for the company’s four Texas locations.

Winter Prosapio, spokeswoman for Schlitterbahn, acknowledged that Kansas City customers could buy season passes by now in years past.

“We offered last year, you may recall, every season pass holder was given the next season free, so there’s not as much pressure there,” Prosapio said.

Schlitterbahn opened in 2009 in Kansas City, Kan., its first operation outside of Texas. It has had a difficult time since the 2016 death of a 10-year-old boy on the Verruckt water slide.

Asked directly if the Kansas City location would open up in 2019, Prosapio said: “We don’t have any news so far about our Kansas City park at this time.

“We focus a great deal of our energy on spring break in Texas, because that’s kind of the start of our season. Right around that time, we will definitely have some news about Kansas City.”

A person answering the phone listed for questions about ticket purchases said season passes were not available in Kansas City and that she didn’t know when they would be.

Is Schlitterbahn considering selling its Kansas City park?

“There’s nothing I can tell you about that situation at this point,” Prosapio said.

Oceans of Fun, a water park in Kansas City, Missouri, is currently accepting payments for season passes.

Caleb Schwab died in August 2016 at Schlitterbahn on what was then the world’s tallest water slide when his raft went airborne and struck a metal pole that supported a netting system. Verruckt was torn down late in 2018.

Affiliates of Schlitterbahn and other companies involved in the design of Verruckt later settled with the Schwab family for nearly $20 million. Caleb Schwab’s father is Scott Schwab, the Kansas secretary of state-elect.

The Kansas Attorney General would later charge five people involved in designing, maintaining and operating Verruckt with various crimes. The most serious of them are for Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry and Verruckt designer John Schooley, who face second-degree murder and other charges of battery and child endangerment.

Henry also faces criminal charges in Johnson County on allegations the he possessed drugs and hired a woman for sex.

A pair of Schlitterbahn maintenance workers were charged with lying to investigators but were later acquitted by a Wyandotte County jury.

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As the park prepared to open in 2018, the Kansas Department of Labor, which regulates amusement rides in Kansas, found several violations of the Kansas Amusement Ride Act, which limited the number of rides the company could operate when it opened for the season.

EPR Properties, a publicly traded real estate investment trust in Kansas City that holds a mortgage on the Schlitterbahn property, warned investors last year that the criminal indictments, the resulting bad publicity and the state’s hesitancy to issue more sales tax revenue (STAR) bonds for the project could endanger the chances of Schlitterbahn repaying a $174 million mortgage on property Schlitterbahn bought in KCK.

A spokesman for EPR Properties did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

On Schlitterbahn’s website, pages for its Texas locations prominently featured links for renewing season passes and other park information. Its page for the Kansas City location featured more limited information, along with a look back to 2018 and a seemingly uncertain pledge about the future.

“Thank you to our fans who splashed away summer with us,” the site reads. “We loved hosting our #BahnFamily in 2018 and can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

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Steve Vockrodt is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported in Kansas City since 2005. Areas of reporting interest include business, politics, justice issues and breaking news investigations. Vockrodt grew up in Denver and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.

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