Government & Politics

After boy’s death on Verrückt water slide, Kansas House considers new regulations

How Schlitterbahn’s Verruckt was built in Wyandotte County

What has become clearer since the tragic death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab is that from nearly the moment the Verruckt was proposed in Wyandotte County, its path to completion was all but assured with almost no outside officials casting a critica
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What has become clearer since the tragic death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab is that from nearly the moment the Verruckt was proposed in Wyandotte County, its path to completion was all but assured with almost no outside officials casting a critica

Lawmakers signaled Thursday that they may soon add regulations to amusement park rides in Kansas after the death last summer of a 10-year-old boy on the world’s tallest water slide.

House Bill 2389 is the first effort by the Kansas Legislature to change state law after Caleb Schwab, the son of Rep. Scott Schwab, was killed in August on Verrückt, a 17-story water slide at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kan.

The bill would require that licensed engineers, or people with a background in amusement ride inspection, review amusement rides. The insurance company that insures the park and ride would pay for the inspections.

The rides also would need a valid permit from the Kansas Department of Labor. For permanent rides, the permit would cost $840 a year; permits for temporary rides would cost $100.

Lawmakers and those familiar with the amusement park industry have criticized the state’s regulations in the months after Caleb’s death.

Under current law, the state has limited oversight of the inspection process.

“We’re very lax in Kansas about these rides for some reason,” said Rep. Louis Ruiz, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat. “I don’t understand the reason why. We need to tighten them up. We had one of our own family, you know, what happened at the Schlitterbahn last year, so we really have to remedy some of these things.”

Schwab has not commented on the bill. Gov. Sam Brownback said last week that he would follow Schwab’s lead on the legislation.

The Kansas Society of Professional Engineers testified in support of the bill and the added requirements for qualified ride inspectors.

“We think that’s a great thing,” said Travis Lowe, the organization’s executive director.

But some who work in the state’s amusement industry said the bill would create “undue hardship.”

Zach Wilson, owner of Fun Services in Shawnee, said he opposed the bill because of the costs the legislation would impose on companies like his that operate temporary amusement rides.

“If you have to pay, or the insurance company has to pay, to have a qualified licensed engineer (inspect) every single setup, that is crazy,” Wilson said.

Conservative House members, including Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, said they were open to changing the state’s amusement park law.

But Whitmer said during a hearing in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee that he intended to try to amend the bill when the committee votes on the legislation.

Rides should have to follow code and meet safety inspections, he said. “At the same time, however, they shouldn’t be subject to overly burdensome regulation that would place them at a competitive disadvantage.”

But Ruiz said the bill might actually need to be even tougher for safety reasons.

“Safety’s got to be a No. 1 concern,” he said.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

Schlitterbahn’s tallest water slide is guided by energy, acceleration and the laws of physics.

 

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