Schlitterbahn co-owner pleads not guilty in boy’s death
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The co-owner of a Kansas waterpark is devastated by the decapitation death of a 10-year-old boy on a massive water slide and is intent on finding out exactly why the ride malfunctioned, his attorney said Thursday.
Jeff Henry, co-owner of Texas-based Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts, pleaded not guilty in Wyandotte County District Court to second-degree murder and other charges in the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab on the 17-story Verruckt water slide at a Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, Kansas.
Henry surrendered his passport but District Judge Robert Burns rejected a prosecution request that he be required to wear a GPS locator, saying he wasn’t convinced by the state’s arguments that Henry was a flight risk.
Henry, 62, posted $500,000 bond on Wednesday and was expected to return to his home in Texas while awaiting trial.
“There isn’t a day where he doesn’t think about Caleb,” said attorney Ron Barroso, of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Henry declined to comment after the hearing except to say that his “heart went out” to Caleb’s family and other people who were injured.
During the hearing, Kansas Assistant Attorney General Adam Zentner said the state was concerned that Henry would flee to a country without extradition to the U.S., such as Brazil. He said Henry, a multimillionaire, had the connections and means to live abroad for the rest of his life.
Barroso blasted that contention, saying he had contacted Kansas officials after Henry was indicted to arrange his voluntary surrender. Instead, he said, officials chose to have Henry arrested at his home in South Padre, Texas, requiring him to spend eight days in jail before a 20-hour drive to Kansas. Barroso said Henry, who suffers from kidney problems and other medical issues, had to stop during the drive to get medical attention before he arrived in Kansas.
“He’s not going anywhere,” Barroso said. “He wants to defend himself against these allegations.”
Henry helped design the water slide and is accused in the indictment of ignoring safety standards in a rush to put the ride into service. Barroso said the allegations in the indictment were “ludicrous” and he was confident they could be disproved in court.
A trial date was set for Sept. 10, but Burns and Henry’s attorney suggested that date could change because the trial — which could last from three to six weeks — will involve thousands of pages of documents, many witnesses and require calling hundreds of potential jurors. Tyler Miles, a former director of operations at Schlitterbahn in Kansas, also is scheduled to go to trial that day. Burns said he would schedule the trials together but that also might change as the legal process continues.
Miles is accused of involuntary manslaughter and interfering with law enforcement. He has pleaded not guilty and denies to allegations.
The slide’s designer, John Schooley, was arrested Monday in Texas and is also charged with second-degree murder. He has agreed to be extradited to Kansas and will be transferred to the state next week.