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Five Men Now Face Criminal Charges In Child's Death On Kansas City Water Slide

File photo
The 17-story water slide at the Schlitterbahn waterpark remains standing while the investigation continues.

Two more individuals face criminal charges in connection with the 2016 death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on the Schlitterbahn water slide, bringing to five the number of people charged.

An indictment unsealed Wednesday in Wyandotte County District Court accuses two maintenance workers at the Kansas City, Kansas, waterpark of obstructing law enforcement by giving false information to investigators.

In March, two designers of the 17-story water slide, known as the Verruckt and billed as the tallest in the world, were charged with second-degree murder in Schwab’s death. The youngster was killed when the raft he was riding in went airborne and struck a metal pole.

Involuntary manslaughter charges also have been filed against the waterpark itself and its former director of operations. And reckless second-degree murder charges have been filed against a general contractor.

The indictment of David Hughes, a maintenance supervisor, and John Zalsman, a member of the park's maintenance crew, alleges they told agents of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that the ride did not have a brake mat.

In fact, according to the indictment, videos, photos and eyewitnesses attested to the existence of the brake mat, which was designed to slow the raft down.

“Records and eyewitness accounts reveal that these men assisted with Verruckt’s construction and performed multiple repairs of the brake mat in question over the years while Verruckt was in public operation,” the indictment states.

Investigators wanted to know why the men had failed to repair the brake mat after it fell off just 10 days before Schwab was killed.

If convicted, Hughes and Zalsman face a maximum of 17 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Attorneys for the men did not return calls seeking comment. 

A Kansas Department of Labor audit released last week found dozens of safety violations at Schlitterbahn, which opened for the 2018 season on May 25. Schlitterbahn, which is based in Texas, criticized the audit's accuracy and said its commitment to safety remained its "highest priority." 

The Verruckt, though no longer in operation, remains standing as the investigation into Schwab's death continues.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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