On August 7, 2016, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab arrived at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City. He was hoping to enjoy a day of water slides and fun with his wife and four sons. Unfortunately, it would end up being one of the worst days of his life when his 10-year-old son Caleb lost his life while riding the park’s biggest attraction. Schlitterbahn, as well as two other companies that assisted in building the ride, were charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery following the boy’s death. On Friday, Wyandotte County District Court Judge Robert Burns dismissed these charges, according to CNN.
Caleb and his brothers had been waiting with much anticipation to ride the Verruckt, noted in 2014 as the world’s largest waterslide. The word “verruckt” is German for “insane” and the ride was just that. Riders are seated in a raft that takes a massive drop from 17 stories high. At certain points, the ride reaches 65 mph and guarantees that passengers will leave soaking wet. The last thing Scott said to Caleb was “‘Brothers stick together,” to which Caleb responded, “I know, Dad.”
Caleb, weighing only 73 pounds, was in the front seat of Raft B. In the raft behind him were two sisters, Matraca Baetz and Hannah Barnes. Upon take off, Raft B went airborne causing it to smash into overhead hoops which held a security netting in place. In an instant, young Caleb was decapitated. To make it worse, his own family witnessed his tragic death. The sisters who were seated him survived but with serious injuries to their face and head. That would be the last time anyone would ride the Verruckt, according to Esquire.
In the months following the boy’s death, his distraught family went after the water park, its manager, as well as anyone associated with the ride who had failed to notify authorities of potential safety issues. The particular raft Caleb had been on had been a “propensity for going abnormally fast and going airborne more frequently than other rafts,” according to an indictment that would be filed following the incident.
The family eventually formed a settlement with the waterpark and the companies associated with it for nearly $20 million. Of course, no sum of money will bring their son back to them, but the Schwabs are most concerned that no other innocent person will be injured at the waterpark.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is disappointed by Friday’s ruling and will be seeking out further charges. He said that the state will “take a fresh look at the evidence and applicable law in this tragic and troubling case to determine the best course forward.”