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Schlitterbahn’s Jeff Henry gets 36 months of probation in Merriam drug case

Frank Morris
KCUR 89.3

Henry, best known locally for designing the Verruckt water slide in Kansas City, Kansas, that caused the death of a young boy, faces up to 57 months in prison if he violates his probation.

Jeff Henry, a Texas businessman whose family launched the Schlitterbahn water park enterprise, was sentenced to 36 months of probation for possessing methamphetamine at a Merriam hotel.

Johnson County prosecutors had recommended Henry spend time in prison for a 2018 incident in which he was originally charged with not only possessing meth, but also buying sex and possessing drug paraphernalia.

But Johnson County District Court Judge Thomas Kelly Ryan agreed with arguments from Henry’s attorneys that their client has been sober, sought mental health treatment and accepted responsibility for his crime.

“In my 44 years of practicing law, this guy has done the best job of rehabilitating himself,” said Carl Cornwell, Henry’s defense attorney, in a telephone call with KCUR. “He did a hell of a job.”

In December, Henry agreed to plead guilty to one charge of drug possession if prosecutors dropped the other charges.

Henry’s attorneys said since the 2018 incident in Merriam, their client spent time in a sober living facility, continues mental health treatment and has passed 58 separate drug screenings.

“Unquestionably, Mr. Henry’s consistent and varied efforts toward his rehabilitation and commitment to his sobriety and mental health since October of 2018, are substantial and compelling,” read his sentencing memorandum.

In response, Johnson County prosecutors doubted the notion that Henry had accepted responsibility for his crime, noting that he litigated the case for more than three years. They also said Henry, at 48 grams, possessed “an incredibly substantial amount” of meth.

“The Defendant stands before this Court not merely as a drug user, but rather as someone who provided drugs and preyed upon the addiction of others,” reads a response by the Johnson County District Attorney. “Drug treatment and abstention do not change that fact.”

If Henry violates the terms of his probation, he could serve up to 57 months in prison.

Henry was charged in 2018 after Merriam police were called to a hotel to respond to a disturbance. Police found Henry and others acting suspiciously. Police recovered drugs and syringes from the hotel room. A woman later told police she was brought there to have sex with Henry by a man who frequently prostituted her.

The arrest came as Henry was in Kansas City for a court hearing for a separate criminal case in Wyandotte County. Henry and others were accused of several crimes, including second-degree murder for Henry, by the Kansas attorney general for the 2016 death of a boy at the former Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, Kansas.

In that case, Henry and others were accused of being criminally negligent in their design and construction of the 17-story Verruckt water slide that opened in 2014. Caleb Schwab, a 10-year old boy died when his raft went airborne and he collided with a metal pole that supported nets meant to keep passengers from flying off the slide. Schwab’s father was serving as a representative in the Kansas House at the time, and is currently the Kansas secretary of state.

The case was later dismissed by a Wyandotte County judge who found the Kansas attorney general had convinced a grand jury to bring charges based on questionable evidence.

Affiliates of Schlitterbahn and others involved in the construction of Verruckt paid the Schwab family nearly $20 million to settle potential lawsuits.

The Schlitterbahn water park in western Wyandotte County was the family-run company’s first attraction outside of Texas. It closed and has since been torn down.

Steve Vockrodt is the former investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom.
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