The Tragedy of Caleb Schwab and a Lethal Waterslide

By: Marie Look  | 
Verruckt water slide at Schlitterbahn Waterpark, June 11, 2016. The Kansas City park is no longer open. GregD / Shutterstock

The accidental death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on August 7, 2016, at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City sent shockwaves through the local community and marked a heart-wrenching chapter for the Schwab family.

While riding the Verrückt waterslide, Caleb was ejected from his raft and suffered fatal injuries. The incident pushed amusement park safety to the forefront of people's minds, with many calling for new or stricter safety standards so that a tragedy like this could never reoccur.


Who Was Caleb Schwab?

Caleb Schwab was the son of Scott Schwab and Michele Schwab. He had three brothers and was the second oldest among his siblings.

At the time of Caleb's death, his father Scott was a member of the Kansas House of Representatives. The family's pastor, Clint Sprague, who became the family spokesperson after Caleb's death, said the boy loved his parents, sports, hugs and Jesus.


Members of Caleb's baseball team attended his funeral in their baseball jerseys. At the end of the service, they honored Caleb's memory with a special, somber huddle. More than 1,000 people attended Caleb's memorial.

The Incident at Schlitterbahn Waterpark

On Sunday, August 7, 2016, the Schwab family visited the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, looking forward to a day of fun.

Caleb told his parents he wanted to ride the Verrückt waterslide, then known as the world's tallest waterslide. According to the Schlitterbahn water park, riders were required to be at least 4 feet, 6 inches tall (137 cm). At 4 feet, 11 inches tall (150 cm), Caleb met the park's height requirement.


Caleb was the first rider in his raft. Two women who were unrelated to him were seated behind him. As the raft went up the Verrückt's second hill, the raft became airborne, launching Caleb into the air, where he collided with part of a net and a metal arc that decapitated him. The women who were riding behind him suffered facial injuries but survived.

The Verrückt Waterslide

The Kansas City water park named the Verrückt waterslide after the German word for "insane." At 168 feet, 7 inches (51.4 meters), the ride was taller than Niagara Falls and included a five-story uphill midsection. In some places it could go as fast as 70 miles per hour (113 kph).

Although the Verrückt was a waterslide, its designers had taken their inspiration in part from roller coasters. When the ride opened in July 2014, riders said it was the "most amazing ride I've ever ridden" and that it was "like dropping out of the sky." Later, court documents would reveal the Kansas City water park's ride had a history of safety issues.


Investigation Into Poor Safety Protocols

Kansas City media outlets, including the Kansas City Business Journal and the Kansas City Star, covered Caleb's death extensively. Government officials, the media and the public called into question the safety protocols of Schlitterbahn Waterparks.

Soon it came to light that Schlitterbahn Waterparks and co-owner Jeff Henry had pressured the ride's design team to complete the Verrückt in a fraction of the time normally required to execute such precise calculations. After the water park built the ride, rafts went airborne numerous times during the testing phase.


Evidence suggested the Kansas City water park officials knew the ride was unsafe but allowed it to open and operate anyway. These officials allegedly also prevented details about other safety-related mishaps on the Verrückt from becoming public knowledge.

Legal and Regulatory Response

Tyler Austin Miles, the former operations director of the park, and other associates, including Jeff Henry and John Schooley, the designers of the slide, faced criminal charges under Kansas law ranging from involuntary manslaughter to aggravated battery.

A grand jury indictment pointed out that the ride lacked technical expertise in its conception. The criminal investigation also revealed the raft Caleb had been in was involved in multiple safety incidents prior to his fatal amusement park accident. However, the Kansas park officials had not properly tested or resolved the issues with the raft.


The Kansas Attorney General's Office took a prominent role in the proceedings. Attorneys and the public alike raised questions about adherences to both Kansas law and Texas law (where the Schlitterbahn Waterparks company originated), focusing on the perceived negligence that allowed the water park to complete and operate such a ride.

Caleb's father, Scott, persuaded the other Kansas legislators to pass a bill that revoked the right of the Schlitterbahn Waterpark and other parks to perform self-inspections. Under the new law, all Kansas amusement parks must now pass regular state inspections and ensure that all amusement park rides are functioning properly before opening to the public.


Aftermath and Continued Advocacy

The Schwab family settled their wrongful death case against the Schlitterbahn park, which did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement agreement. After settling with all the involved parties, the Schwab family was awarded $20 million.

In 2018, workers demolished the Verrückt, which had not operated since the fatal incident. The Schlitterbahn water park closed that same year.


In 2019, a judge dismissed the criminal charges against Jeff Henry, John Schooley and Tyler Austin Miles on account of the prosecuting attorneys presenting inadmissible evidence to the grand jury.

As a result of what occurred at the Kansas City water park, other amusement parks across the country have faced similar scrutiny over their safety protocols.

Today, Scott, Michele and the rest of the Schwab family continue to advocate for safety in amusement parks, ensuring that Caleb's death was not in vain.

We created this article in conjunction with AI technology, then made sure it was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.