Jeff Henry pleads not guilty to second-degree murder in Schlitterbahn death

Posted at 2:51 PM, Apr 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-05 20:03:30-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The co-owner of Schlitterbahn Waterpark pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree murder charges in connection to the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab.

At a hearing in Wyandotte County Court, Assistant Attorney General Adam Zentner argued Jeff Henry should have an electronic tracking device or GPS attached to him because he posed a flight risk.

Zentner argued Henry has business connections in Brazil and could live there well.

Judge Robert Burns denied the request but Henry did turn over his passport.

"He doesn't need a GPS monitor. He's not going to go anywhere. He wants to come and defend himself against these charges," said Ron Barroso, Henry's attorney.

Henry walked out of the courtroom after his brother posted $500,000 bond on his behalf. He is expected to head back to Texas.

"I don't have anything to say to you guys today. I'll be talking to you guys shortly after some rest," Henry told 41 Action News.

Prosecutors argue Henry was grossly negligent and reckless in the construction and maintenance of the Verrückt waterslide, saying it was only a matter of time before someone died on the ride.

10-year-old Caleb Schwab died on the slide in 2016.

Prosecutors argue Henry didn't have the proper training to design and construct Verrückt.

Court records claim Henry dropped out of high school to go into the amusement park business with his family.

When the 41 Action News Investigators asked Henry if he had dropped out of high school, he said, "No sir, I have a high school diploma from New Braunfels High School."

When asked if he had any formal training in engineering or physics, he said "No comment."

His attorney, however, acknowledged he didn't.

"Neither did Henry Ford, and he built cars," Barroso said.

The indictment claims there were multiple injuries on Verrückt before Caleb's death including spinal disk injuries, concussions, whiplash and broken bones.

"If this, in fact, is true, which we don't believe it's true, that was never reported to him," Barroso said.

Caleb Schwab's death is not the first time someone has died at a water park owned by Henry.

In 2013, a 20-year-old lifeguard, Nico Benavides, died at the South Padre Island park.

"That individual was also found to be under the influence, so there was no fault on Schlitterbahn," Barroso said.

But the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did find fault with the company for six safety violations.

Schlitterbahn was fined $60,000.

Henry's estranged wife also accuses him of suffering from mental illness and years of mental and physical abuse, including rape and breaking her foot, in an ongoing divorce case.

Court records in that case claim Henry has been treated for mental illness.

"No, he has not. His estranged wife, who is suing him, says a lot of things that aren't true," Barroso said.

When the 41 Action News Investigators asked Barroso if Henry had raped his wife or broken her foot, Barroso said, "No he did not, absolutely not."

The 41 Action News Investigators asked Henry about his wife calling him crazy as well as a pending bankruptcy case with his Corpus Christi property.

"No comment, good questions, I'll have answers for you shortly," Henry said.

The next hearing in the case is in three weeks.

Judge Burns has decided for now to lump all the Schlitterbahn defendants, including slide co-designer John Schooley and park operator Tyler Miles, into the same trial.

That trial is scheduled to begin in September.