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Schlitterbahn reopens without the water slide where boy lost his life

Families return to Schlitterbahn Water Park after death of Caleb Schwab

Days after the death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on the Verruckt water slide, families returned to the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kan. While the Caleb's death was on their minds, crowds sought fun and relief from the heat.
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Days after the death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on the Verruckt water slide, families returned to the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kan. While the Caleb's death was on their minds, crowds sought fun and relief from the heat.

The Schlitterbahn water Park reopened Wednesday to crowds of people seeking fun and relief from the 93-degree heat just three days after a 10-year-old boy lost his life on its most noted attraction.

The 17-story Verrückt slide will remain closed, but it still towered over the otherwise bustling park. Schlitterbahn officials remained silent as the investigation by Kansas City, Kan., police continued.

Those at the park Wednesday said they had no worries about other attractions.

“I think everything else is safe,” said Heidi Hayen of Topeka, who was visiting with friends Annabella and Alyssa Floro of Lawrence. “I wasn’t here when they had that slide, but all the other stuff I’ve been here for and I’ve never felt like I wasn’t safe.”

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Heather Hawkins of Springfield, Mo., said she and her family, Aspen Hawkins and 2-year-old Bronx Hawkins, planned to enjoy the park’s other slides and attractions.

“It’s safe,” she said. “Accidents happen.”

Virtually everyone was aware of the death Sunday. Caleb Thomas Schwab, who was riding in the front of a three-person boat, suffered a fatal neck injury as the boat crested the hill after the initial drop of 168 feet and 7 inches. Caleb was the son of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab of Olathe.

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Tina and Chuck Day of Osawatomie, Kan., said their grandchildren, 6-year-old Conner Cooley, 7-year-old Myla Schmidt and 4-year-old Brayden Bunce, did not know about the death.

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“We didn’t talk to them about it,” Tina Day said. “I don’t want them to be afraid to go in the water.”

Eric Lerdahl, now in the Marines in San Diego, worked at Schlitterbahn for four years, one as a supervisor. He returned Wednesday, for the first time since the Verrückt was built, with his parents, Mitch and Joyce Lerdahl of Shawnee.

Eric Lerdahl said he had confidence in the water park staff’s conscientiousness.

“I know when I was supervisor, I made sure that they (other employees) knew their jobs,” he said. “I was very picky about it.”

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Mitch Lerdahl said if engineers thought they had fixed the problem with the Verrückt and wanted someone to test it, he would volunteer.

“Corrections can be made,” he said. “We’ve had problems with space capsules, too.”

Sheridan Smith of Kansas City, Kan., a 17-year-old student at Piper High School, said he had ridden the Verrückt eight to 10 times.

“I always felt safe on it,” he said, “because they weighed you before you got on and they make sure it’s secure, so I don’t know.”

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But Debbie McClain of Sabetha, Kan., said her family had visited Schlitterbahn several times and had never ridden the Verrückt.

“I saw the show ‘Xtreme Waterparks’ on TV when that first opened, and I thought it looked pretty dangerous,” she said, adding that her grandson, Spencer Lourance, was older than Caleb and he would not meet the 54-inch height requirement to ride the Verrückt.

Ray DeMarchi of Overland Park on Wednesday dropped off four teenage boys, including his son, Joe DeMarchi, for their once-a-summer visit to Schlitterbahn.

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“I trust every ride with my life here except the Verrückt,” said one of the boys, Alec Webber.

Ray DeMarchi said he hopes the water park will find out what led to Caleb’s death so everyone will be safer in the future.

McClain agreed.

“I always think out of some tragedy there’s a reason for why God made things happen,” she said. “And I feel like maybe (because) his dad’s a lawmaker that maybe he’s going to see that parks are safe and maybe even more regulations.

“Maybe his dad will be an advocate for his son and the safety of others.”

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