This case could have a huge impact on the entire theme park and water park industry. On Tuesday, March 27, 2018, Jeffrey Henry was booked into the Cameron County jail in Texas. He is currently being held on three charges: aggravated battery, aggravated child endangerment, and murder. Henry is the co-owner of Schlitterbahn, a water park company who designed Verruckt, the world’s tallest water slide which opened in Kansas City, Missouri in 2014. The arrest followed last week’s indictment of not only the Schlitterbahn park but the operations director, Tyler Austin Miles on 20 felony charges.
For those unfamiliar, in 2016 a 10-year-old boy was decapitated while riding Verruckt. The raft he was riding went airborne and his head struck one of the metal bars used to support netting that covers a portion of the slide. As it turns out, the boy’s father is Scott Schwabb, a Kansas State representative. This incident has become a firestorm amongst those in the water park industry and for good reason.
The indictment filed with the court states that Verruckt met next to zero industry standards and that it kept operating even after the slide’s brake system failed. Not to mention, it stated that Henry had “no engineering credentials” and the slide opened on a “rushed timeline.”
That is an understatement. Even though the opening of Verruckt was pushed back several times, the indictment shows just how much they rushed to get this slide open. According to several emails, the idea of the slide came from watching a show on the Travel Channel called “Xtreme Water Parks”. Verruckt was rushed into production in order to get the attention of the show’s producers and gain publicity for Schlitterbahn.
For those who remember that special, you know the infamous videos of rafts going airborne off the side of the slide while it was in testing. While no riders were injured and the special noted engineering changes to Verruckt before of it opened, several whistleblowers did apparently try to call attention to various safety issues after the attraction opened to the public.
One of the issues raised is the weight distribution in the raft. In the case of the 10-year old who died, according to the indictment, the weight distribution was uneven because he was riding in the front. He was riding with two other females, both substantially heavier than him. Thus, the front of the raft went airborne since there wasn’t a more even weight distribution. He should have been in the middle.
Schlitterbahn is denying the allegations against it in the indictment saying, it is full of false information and that they did everything they could to cooperate with the investigation. Assuming any of these charges stick, it could have a huge impact on the industry. Can a single person, who either engineered or is in charge of operating an attraction, get convicted of felony charges relating to an incident? This happens regularly in other countries but is very uncommon in the United States. More importantly, where was the state in all of this? How were they regulating this ride? Will those inspections change? We will be watching this one closely.
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