Crime

More trouble for Schlitterbahn’s Jeff Henry: new criminal sex, drug charges in JoCo

Aerial view of deadly Verrückt water slide being dismantled at Schlitterbahn

Get a birds-eye view of the cranes and the crews dismantling the Verruckt water slide at Schlitterbahn water park, in Kansas City, Kan., where a 10-year-old boy was killed in 2016.
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Get a birds-eye view of the cranes and the crews dismantling the Verruckt water slide at Schlitterbahn water park, in Kansas City, Kan., where a 10-year-old boy was killed in 2016.

Jeff Henry, the enigmatic co-owner of Schlitterbahn water parks currently facing serious criminal charges in Wyandotte County, now faces separate charges in Johnson County related to possessing drugs and hiring someone for sex.

The Johnson County District Attorney charged Henry on Oct. 23 with a felony count of possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute and possessing drug paraphernalia, as well as two misdemeanor counts of buying sex and illegally possessing Xanax, a prescription medication meant for treating anxiety.

The crimes allegedly happened on July 13 — one day after he had a court hearing in Wyandotte County. Henry lives in Texas.

Henry turned himself in to authorities on Monday night and was released several hours later after posting $100,000 bond. His first appearance in Johnson County is Nov. 7.

A Schlitterbahn spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. Carl Cornwell, Henry’s defense attorney, declined to comment.

Henry will appear in Wyandotte County District Court on Wednesday for a bond revocation hearing. That’s where he’s accused of several felony charges related to the 2016 death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on the Verruckt water slide.

Merriam Police officers were waiting for Henry as he arrived at the Wyandotte County District Courthouse again in August for a hearing on the charges he faces for Caleb’s death. Officers took a DNA swab at the time.

He awaits trial for second-degree murder, aggravated child endangerment and other charges. The Kansas Attorney General has accused Henry of designing a risky water slide while lacking qualifications, as well as ignoring warnings about the safety of the slide.

Caleb died on Aug. 7, 2016, about two years after Verruckt opened as the world’s tallest water slide. Caleb’s raft went airborne and he struck a metal pole that supported nets meant to keep riders from flying off the slide.

The boy’s death and subsequent investigations revealed that Schlitterbahn faced little outside scrutiny as it built the attraction and exposed lax Kansas laws regulating amusement park ride safety.

Schlitterbahn and other companies associated with designing and building Verruckt settled with Schwab’s family for a combined total nearing $20 million in 2017. Schwab’s father, Scott Schwab, is a Kansas House Representative from Olathe who is running as the Republican nominee for Kansas Secretary of State.

In March, Henry was arrested in Texas after a Wyandotte County grand jury charged him in Caleb’s death. Henry has pleaded not guilty in the Schwab case; the charges against him have not been tested in court.

Henry in 1994 pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony drug possession charge in 1994 after authorities caught him with 17 ounces of marijuana, according to a story in Texas Monthly.

Others associated with Schlitterbahn also face criminal charges in Caleb’s death.

John Schooley, lead designer of Verruckt, faces the same charges as Henry. Tyler Miles, the director of operations for the local Schlitterbahn water park, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and other charges related to the accusation that he helped cover up evidence of poor maintenance of the Verruckt ride.

Both have pleaded not guilty and deny any wrongdoing.

A pair of Schlitterbahn maintenance workers, David Hughes and John Zalsman, were both charged and accused of lying to investigators looking into the circumstances of Caleb’s death. Both men went to trial earlier this month and were acquitted by a Wyandotte County jury who believed that the Kansas Attorney General had a weak case.

The Star’s Joe Robertson contributed to this report.

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