Attorney: Negligence level key in Schlitterbahn case

Criminal indictment names company as defendant
Posted at 6:28 PM, Mar 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-27 09:28:34-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It's impossible to miss if you're anywhere near it.

Once billed as the world's largest waterslide, Verruckt is now at the center of a criminal case against park operator Tyler Austin Miles and the company, Schlitterbahn Waterpark itself.

"It's really the level of malice is key," said Henry Service, a long time criminal defense attorney.

In August 2016, 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was killed while riding Verruckt.

What caught Service's eye in the indictment is the number of people who were injured on Verruckt before that tragedy.

Injuries to people from ages 14 to 42 before Caleb include broken toes, concussions, herniated disks and whiplash.

"If you really don't care about people dying, that is when it becomes criminal," Service said.

The 20-count criminal indictment includes involuntary manslaughter for Caleb's death.

The indictment argues Verruckt designers Jeff Henry and John Schooley didn't have the proper expertise to build the waterslide.

It says they knew rafts would fly off the slide in a way that could seriously injure people.

Service says another key part of the indictment claims Miles and the company tried to hide evidence from investigators.

"If it's true and they were concealing evidence from law enforcement, that in a way shows consciousness of guilt," Service said.

Late Monday afternoon, a Schlitterbahn representative issued a response on behalf of the company and Miles' attorneys.

We were shocked by the allegations being made by the Attorney General about Tyler and our KC park. The allegation that we operated, and failed to maintain, a ride that could foreseeably cause such a tragic accident is beyond the pale of speculation. Many of us, and our children and grandchildren, have ridden the ride with complete confidence as to its safety. Our operational mantra has been and will forever be Safety First. 

The accusation that we withheld information or altered evidence is completely false. We have operated with integrity from day one at the waterpark – as we do throughout our waterparks and resorts. We put our guests and employees safety first; and safety and maintenance are at the top of our list of priorities. 

Since the date of the incident we have worked closely with law enforcement; at no time have we withheld evidence; at no time have we altered evidence. The indictment uses quoted statements from a reality TV show that was scripted for dramatic effect that in no way reflects the design and construction of the ride. 

Quotes were purported to be from definitive design meetings, when they were, in fact, “acting.”

During the civil matter, attorneys involved noted that we cooperated fully, provided thousands of documents, and that nothing was withheld or tampered with. The secret Grand Jury never heard one word from us directly, nor were we allowed to provide contradictory evidence. And we have plenty.

In fact, the indictment presented is so full of false information that it has shocked the Kansas legal community, as you can see in the statement from Tyler Miles’ attorneys below.

Our legal team will be speaking out against each of the allegations point by point in the coming weeks and months. Rest assured, we stand behind our staff and all our parks. We will be fighting these charges aggressively. We know that Tyler is innocent and that we run a safe operation – our 40 years of entertaining millions of people speaks to that.

We look forward to proving this in court where we know the facts will prove this was an accident.

Below is the statement provided by Miles’s attorneys, Tom and Tricia Bath: 

The suggestions that C.S.’s death was foreseeable to Tyler Miles, that, with this knowledge Tyler “avoided or delayed repairs,” and that Tyler “had covered up similar incidents” are simply not true. Not only had Tyler ridden the slide numerous times, but, as the State is aware, he had scheduled his wife, to ride it on the day of the accident. These are not the actions of someone who believed the ride to be dangerous.

The allegation that Tyler knowingly obstructed the investigation is, likewise, false.  From the moment of the accident, and continuing until the charges were filed, Tyler cooperated with law enforcement. He did not hide or destroy documents. 

The Constitution requires that an Indictment be based upon legal evidence- not speculation or conjecture. This Indictment is based upon Grand Jury proceedings, which are conducted in secret. While neither we nor the public have had an opportunity to see transcripts of Grand Jury witness testimony, the Indictment is littered with references to evidence that is not legal. 

Only after Tyler is able to obtain transcripts, witness statements and police reports will he, like any citizen, be in a position to fully address these allegations. What we know is that Tyler is innocent, which is why he insisted, at his first court appearance, that we set the matter for jury trial. We look forward to the opportunity to challenge the evidence, in a public forum, and prove Tyler’s innocence. 

Schlitterbahn and other companies have already paid a $20 million settlement to the Schwab Family.

While Service acknowledges you can't send a company to prison, you can fine that company or go after members of that company.

"With less evidence than this, there are people in jail," Service said.

Caleb's father Scott Schwab, a top leader in the Kansas Legislature, helped pass a bill into law last year to make companies more accountable for amusement park rides.

That bill went into effect the beginning of this year.

Service says there should've been ways to get it passed long before the death of a politician's son.