Government & Politics

Kansas House signs off on new amusement ride law after emotional speech by Scott Schwab

This June 2016 photo shows Caleb Thomas Schwab posing with his father Scott Schwab, a Kansas state lawmaker from Olathe. Caleb died Aug. 7 while riding the Verrückt water slide in Kansas City, Kan.
This June 2016 photo shows Caleb Thomas Schwab posing with his father Scott Schwab, a Kansas state lawmaker from Olathe. Caleb died Aug. 7 while riding the Verrückt water slide in Kansas City, Kan. The Associated Press

The Kansas House gave initial approval Thursday to a bill that would add new requirements for amusement rides in the state after the son of a leading Kansas Republican was killed on the world’s tallest water slide last summer.

The strong voice vote of support came after Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, spoke in support of the bill.

His son, 10-year-old Caleb Schwab, was killed while riding Verrückt, a 17-story water slide at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kan., last August.

It was the first time Schwab had spoken publicly about the bill this session.

“This is a good measure,” Schwab said. “And for those of you who have consternation with the expansion of government, sometimes you just need some because even John Adams expanded government when he created the U.S. Navy.”

During the emotional speech on the House floor Thursday morning, Schwab told stories about his family and talked about Caleb and the emotion he felt as members of the Legislature offered their support in the time after his son’s death.

“I love every one of you and thank you for everything you’ve done for our family,” Schwab said. “But this bill is really not about Caleb.

“It’s for the next kid who goes someplace in Kansas for a fun weekend.”

Schwab said lawmakers should vote however they saw fit.

“If you feel like this is too much growth, I will not count it against you,” he said.

The bill now advances to a final vote, where it is likely to be approved next week.

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

The state’s amusement ride law was questioned by lawmakers following Caleb’s death.

Kansas has little oversight of the inspection process for amusement rides, and both Democrats and Republicans had agreed that the law needed to be strengthened.

An investigation by The Star last August described early warning signs about the 168-foot-high ride. Even in the face of design and safety problems, Verrückt’s path to completion was all but assured, with almost no outside officials casting a critical eye on the project, The Star found.

The bill given initial approval by lawmakers includes inspection requirements, reporting requirements for injuries, and creates a new fee fund that one lawmaker pushing the bill said will help fund enforcement of the act if it becomes law.

Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican, said as it stands, the current Kansas amusement ride law includes some of the weakest regulations in the United States.

“This is not a perfect bill, but it’s about as good as we can get it,” Barker said.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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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