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Kansas To Audit Schlitterbahn Before Troubled Park Opens In May

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The Schlitterbahn water park in Wyandotte County is undergoing a state safety audit before its schedule spring re-opening. A 10-year-old boy died on the Verruckt waterslide in 2016.

Schlitterbahn, the amusement park under indictment over the 2016 death of a lawmaker’s son on its signature waterslide, now finds itself subject to a full state audit.

A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Labor said Wednesday the audit is set to take place before the park’s scheduled opening for the summer season on May 25.

The park is required to have qualified inspectors check its rides each day and maintain a log of those reports. Spokeswoman Barbara Hersh said the department will make sure those inspections are carried out.

The department “has exercised its discretion … and will be conducting a full compliance audit under the Kansas Amusement Ride Act at Schlitterbahn before they reopen in May 2018,” Hersh said in an email. “Beyond that, we cannot comment on pending administrative matters.”

Caleb Schwab, the 10-year-old son of Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab, died on Aug. 7, 2016, when the raft he was riding down the Verruckt slide became airborne and struck was supposed to be a protective netting and hoop structure. He was killed instantly.

This month, a Wyandotte County grand jury indicted a park manager, a construction company and the two men who designed the 17-story ride. It was billed as the world’s tallest waterslide when it opened in 2014.

Schlitterbahn officials have settled civil suits with the Scwhab family and other people injured on the ride that day. The indictments contend that the park continued to operate the ride after several warning signs, including lesser injuries by multiple riders.

It also accused the designers, including Schlitterbahn co-owner John Wayne Henry, of relying on trial-and-error methods in a rushed design and construction of Verruckt and of disregarding industry standards.

Neither state law nor federal regulations were involved in the approval of the slide’s design. Rather, state inspectors had the power only to confirm that it was operated in accordance with the park’s own design.

A new Kansas law adopted last year after Caleb’s death sets standards for insurance, ride inspections and injury reports. It also demands yearly inspections for stationary rides like the Verrückt – which are regulated differently than traveling carnival midways. The checks are now carried out by inspectors paid by insurance companies, rather than by a ride’s owners.

After Caleb’s death, Schlitterbahn officials said they would tear down Verruckt. But it still towers along Interstate 435 while various inspectors collect evidence.

State law requires amusement parks to keep safety records, going back three years, available for audit. Those records include certificates showing the company’s inspectors are qualified, along with test results, operating manuals for rides, the manufacturer’s testing recommendations and inspection guidelines, and maintenance records. A 2016 state audit of the park found it had all the records required by state law.

The results of the new audit will be a matter of public record.

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. 

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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