New Schlitterbahn accident details add to safety concerns about the water park

Verrückt water slide timeline of events

Here's a look back at Verrückt and the series of events following 10-year-old Caleb Schwab's death on the water slide in 2016 at Schlitterbahn in Kansas City, Kan.
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Here's a look back at Verrückt and the series of events following 10-year-old Caleb Schwab's death on the water slide in 2016 at Schlitterbahn in Kansas City, Kan.

Unsettling details are emerging about a 2017 injury suffered at Schlitterbahn Kansas City, the water park in western Wyandotte County.

The park’s safety has been under scrutiny since 10-year old Caleb Schwab was killed there in 2016. Jeff Henry, a co-owner, and designer John Schooley have been charged with murder in connection with the incident.

The new details suggest Kansas lawmakers — and local officials in the Unified Government — should consider added oversight of amusement parks. They also serve as an important reminder of the risks patrons take when visiting a park.

The Star learned of the 2017 accident last week. A woman claimed she suffered a serious injury on a ride called the Twister that August.

The Kansas Department of Labor told us it investigated the incident but provided few details. Schlitterbahn said the woman complained of “pain in her chest.”

The Star filed an open records request for all the information surrounding the accident. Those documents, provided this week, include the transcript of a phone conversation with the victim.

“My body left the slide,” the woman told the investigator. “And then my head banged the side of the, I guess the, I don’t know what exactly happened, but my head hit the side of it, and then I hit my shoulder and the side of my arm.”

The woman ended the ride by hitting her ribcage. She told investigators she was bed-ridden for several days and missed work for more than a week. “It didn’t seem very safe to me,” she said.

The company was not sanctioned for the incident. “Schlitterbahn was found to be in compliance with the Kansas Amusement Ride Act,” an investigation report says, “and no violations were found by KDOL.”

But the state’s records don’t reflect any specific conclusion as to whether the accident was preventable. If a patron can suffer a serious injury during proper operation of a ride, safety may be at unnecessary risk.

State officials reviewed design standards and inspections reports when investigating this accident. If they need additional authority to impose penalties when a rider suffers a preventable injury, lawmakers should provide it.

The Unified Government could also do more to ensure that Schlitterbahn is safe. State law gives local governments the authority to add safety regulations if they desire. The Unified Government should consider such a step.

At the same time, patrons of the park must be on alert, too. The Kansas Amusement Ride Act says so: “Each patron of an amusement ride, by participation, accepts the risks inherent in such participation of which an ordinary prudent person is or should be aware.”

Schlitterbahn patrons should consider themselves warned.

Injuries at Schlitterbahn facilities aren’t limited to the Kansas City park.

“The company also has a high injury rate in Texas, where its four locations accounted for 13 percent of the 542 ride-related injuries reported to the state within the past five years,” the San Antonio Express-News reported Sunday. “It’s the second-highest for any single amusement park company operating in Texas.”

Kansas labor officials have promised an audit of the local Schlitterbahn park before it opens in May. The state should take as much time as it needs to review the rides before Schlitterbahn opens its doors for the season.