KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Wyandotte County judge on Friday dismissed all charges against Schlitterbahn Waterpark officials, saying he found multiple abuses by the Kansas Attorney General's Office in the grand jury process.
Judge Robert Burns found multiple abuses by the Kansas AG's Office in grand jury process. Burns says inadmissible evidence presented to grand jury.— Andy Alcock (@AndyAlcock2) February 22, 2019
The charges stemmed from the August 2016 death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on the Verruckt water slide at Schlitterbahn’s Kansas City, Kansas, water park.
Schlitterbahn Waterpark co-owner Jeff Henry, Verruckt designer John Schooley and former park manager Tyler Miles all faced multiple charges related to the boy's death.
Judge Robert Burns also dropped charges against Henry & Sons Construction Company and KC Waterpark Management LLC.
Burns ruled that the Attorney General’s Office improperly presented a “highly dramatized” Travel Channel video of Verruckt’s construction to the grand jury, leading to the indictments.
Carl Cornwell, who was one of Henry’s attorneys, said he expected the ruling. He said the defense was not allowed to be in the courtroom with the grand jury when they were shown the Travel Channel video of rafts flying off the tracks.
“It wasn’t going fast enough so they put wheels on it. They have pictures of that. Also they didn’t load one of the boats correctly so it would fly off and land someplace else. Well, that was never shown to the grand jury,” Cornwell said.
Burns also ruled that the state improperly allowed one questionable expert witness to testify about testing standards not required under Kansas law.
The judge also found that witnesses improperly testified about the 2013 death of a lifeguard at Schlitterbahn's South Padre Island water park in Texas, which he said would be inadmissible in court.
“Maybe some things were not being taken care of appropriately by some other folks and that’s all I’m going to say about that. But I don’t know why it was filed folks. Why was it pushed? Just makes no sense to me,” Cornwell said.
An attorney representing the Schwab family said Friday the family had no comment on the judge's ruling.
In January 2017, the Schwab family settled a civil case for $20 million.
A Schlitterbahn spokesperson sent the following statement to 41 Action News about the ruling:
We welcome today’s decision which dismissed the charges against all defendants. We are thankful for all the support and encouragement we’ve received.
The Attorney General's Office could choose to refile charges and seek probable cause from a judge or take the case back to a grand jury.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said his office was disappointed in the ruling.
“We are obviously disappointed and respectfully disagree with the court’s decision. We will review the ruling carefully, including the court’s observation that the ruling ‘does not preclude the possibility that the State could continue to pursue this matter in a criminal court,’ and take a fresh look at the evidence and applicable law in this tragic and troubling case to determine the best course forward.”
In October, a jury found two former maintenance employees not guilty of lying to investigators after the boy's death.
Stay with 41 Action News for more on this developing story.