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Schlitterbahn Co-Owner Pleads Not Guilty in Kansas City, Kansas, Waterslide Death

Frank Morris
KCUR 89.3

The co-owner of Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges related to the death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on a 17-story waterslide in Kansas City, Kansas. Judge Robert Burns made Jeff Henry  surrender his passport, but he declined to make Henry wear a GPS ankle monitor.

Prosecutors say that Henry and the ride’s other principal designer, John Schooley, built Verruckt, which at the time was the world’s tallest waterslide, without consulting qualified engineers and rushed construction to meet a TV show deadline. Prosecutors allege the process shows extreme indifference to human life.

Ron Barroso, Henry’s lawyer, says that his client places a premium on safety.

“There’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t think about Caleb Schwab. He is torn apart by what happened out there,” said Barroso outside the courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas Thursday.

Barroso says safety concerns delayed construction of the Verruckt waterslide by over a year.

“That ride was torn down at one point and rebuilt to make it safer," said Barroso.

The slide's geometry was tamed after rafts sailed off the earlier version. Netting supported by hoops was added late in the process and that “safety feature” proved lethal when Caleb Schwab collided with it in 2016.

Jeff Henry is free on a $500,000 bond. The trial’s tentatively scheduled to start on Sept. 10.

Frank Morris reports for KCUR and NPR. You can find him on Twitter @FrankNewsman.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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