On August 7, 2016, a young boy named Caleb Schwab died because he rode on a dangerous and improperly designed water slide that he and his family rightfully believed was safe.

Let that sentence sink in for a minute.

How many times do we put our lives in the hands of others, whether it’s another business or a person? Trust is a big part of the way we do things. We don’t necessarily have to trust the person or the business, but we feel that we can at least trust the agencies responsible for regulating the people and businesses. We trust that there are processes and protocols in place to prevent tragedy.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, whether we know it or not, we’re rolling the dice with our lives or with the lives of our children. This is a scary thought, but it’s tragedies like the Verruckt water slide incident at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas that remind us that danger could be lurking in plain sight.

This particular incident is much more concerning and stressful to read about because of all the warning signs that were present. One of the criminal indictments can be found on the internet, and when you dig into it, you see this astounding serious of red lights, starting from the moment the water slide was imagined until the moment Caleb Schwab lost his life. Verruckt should never have happened, and this little boy should never have lost his life.

In this blog post, we’ll dig into the incident and talk about what happened on August 7, 2016. However, there’s a lot of articles out there that tell this part of the story. What I hope to do in this blog is bring out more of the information from the indictment and talk about all the warning signs that had to be ignored for a tragedy like this to occur.

When you learn about this water slide and how it was designed, you won’t be surprised at all to learn that a lot of people were seriously injured on it, and the improper design ultimately caused a death. In fact, you will probably come to the conclusion that death was inevitable. It was just a matter of time.

What we need to figure out is why this was allowed to go on. Why was Verruckt allowed to be open to the public? Why was no one there to stop people from getting on this death trap? Why didn’t anyone come forward when this thing was being tested? These are questions that beg answers, but the most obvious answer is often the right answer: profit.

You won’t get all the answers here, but you will get information that you can use to come to your own conclusion. The whole thing is an enigma. The stupidity and insanity and total disregard for safety will truly blow your mind. However, if we’re to have a safe world for our families and our children, we should not ignore stories, like the story of Caleb Schwab, and allow them to fade away into the past until something else horrible happens. These tragic events are an opportunity to learn and to prevent tragedies in the future.

Now, let’s dig into this story and talk about the various design issues, as well as the people who were injured prior to the day young Caleb lost his life.

The Story of How Young Caleb Schwab Lost His Life on the Verruckt Water Slide

In the warm, cloudy afternoon of August 7, 2016, 10-year-old Caleb Schwab arrived at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas, with his family. It was a special day for them, as Caleb's father, Scott Schwab, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, was granted free admission to the park along with other lawmakers' families for Elected Officials Day.

Picture of Verruckt Water SlideExcited to explore the park, Caleb and his brother Nathan eagerly ran to the intimidating Verruckt water slide, towering 17 stories above the ground. The 168-foot-tall behemoth sent riders in a three-person raft plummeting nearly straight down at speeds of 70 miles per hour before surging up a 50-foot hill and descending into a pool. Verruckt, certified by Guinness Book of World Records in 2014 as the tallest waterslide on Earth, was a one-of-a-kind attraction.

As the brothers climbed the 264 stairs to the top, they were unaware that these would be their last moments together. Due to weight requirements, Caleb and Nathan were separated at the top of the slide. Nathan went down first and waited for his brother at the bottom. Caleb took the front seat in the next raft, accompanied by two sisters in the seats behind him.

The trio descended the exhilarating first leg without incident, but as the raft shot up the second hill, it went airborne. Caleb collided with the netting and metal hoops above the slide, the force of the impact decapitating him instantly. Nathan, witnessing the horrific scene, screamed, "He flew from the Verruckt, he flew from the Verruckt!"

To the horror of onlookers, the raft entered the runout pool, followed by blood-red water and Caleb's mangled body. Melanie Gocke, a bystander, told reporters, "I heard the noise, and I looked over immediately, and I saw his broken neck and him sliding down the slide leaving a blood trail." Another witness, Jess Sanford, added, "I only saw Caleb slide down the last half of the slide, and then I saw the blood."

Investigators initially believed this tragedy was an isolated incident; however, the investigation into Caleb's death revealed a disturbing pattern of negligence and cover-ups by Schlitterbahn officials. Whistleblowers came forward during the investigation, exposing the fact that similar incidents had occurred in the past, and it was only a matter of time before someone was seriously injured or killed on Verruckt.

Amusement park ride experts found evidence of rafts going airborne and colliding with hoops and netting prior to Caleb's death. They also discovered that Verruckt's design violated nearly all longstanding industry safety standards. The criminal investigation focused on three key individuals: Jeff Henry, the visionary behind Verruckt; John Schooley, a designer who worked closely with Henry; and Austin Miles, the director of operations at Schlitterbahn.

The available indictment, the one against Schlitterbahn and Miles, revealed an alarming disregard for guest safety, with Henry setting an unrealistic and dangerous timeline for Verruckt's construction. Despite the lack of engineers involved and the prototype's immediate issues with rafts going airborne, Henry pushed forward, driven by a desire to impress television producers and outdo competing waterparks.

Even after a massive redesign in 2014, rafts continued to go airborne during testing in the weeks leading up to the grand opening. Henry's blatant disregard for industry safety standards played a significant role in Verruckt's unsafe design. Additionally, Schooley, who signed off on the ride's safety and compliance with industry standards, was later found to have made false certifications.

After Verruckt opened to the public, injuries ranging from concussions to cuts and foot injuries began to mount. Raft B, the one Caleb was riding in at the time of his death, was particularly dangerous, with a propensity for going abnormally fast and going airborne more consistently than other rafts. Despite multiple reports and serious injuries involving Raft B, it was repeatedly put back into circulation.

Compounding the issues, Verruckt's braking system had been flagged as a critical maintenance issue 23 days before Caleb's death, but Miles chose to keep the ride operating. When the brake system failed completely ten days prior, resulting in increased raft speeds and more frequent airborne incidents, Miles still refused to shut down the ride. Ultimately, the actions and omissions of those in charge led to a fatality that made national news.

Criminal Charges Brought After the Incident

In the aftermath of the incident that took Caleb’s life, Jeff Henry and John Schooley were charged with second-degree murder, and Tyler Miles and Schlitterbahn Waterpark of Kansas City, Kansas were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Although we could not obtain a copy of the first indictment, the indictment brought against Miles and Schlitterbahn is obtainable.

The indictment against Miles and Schlitterbahn asserted that Schlitterbahn and Miles were aware of the dangers posed by Verruckt but nevertheless chose to keep the ride open to the public, prioritizing financial gain over safety. Although second-degree murder charges against Henry and Schooley and involuntary manslaughter charges against Miles were ultimately dismissed because of alleged due process issues and improper introduction of certain testimony and evidence, the tragedy of Caleb Schwab's death remains a haunting reminder of the consequences of negligence and disregard for safety in the amusement park industry.

In an unrelated incident, the day after Henry made a court appearance in relation to his second-degree murder charge for Caleb Schwab's death, he was found in a hotel room with an alleged sex worker and a variety of drugs. In 2021, a judge sentenced Jeff Henry to 4 years and 9 months in prison for possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute, further highlighting his tumultuous personal life and run-ins with the law.

Dangerous Issues with Verruckt Ignored for Years

Verruckt water slide in Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, KansasThe indictment brought to light a series of alarming safety issues and acts of negligence by key individuals at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in the years leading up to Caleb Schwab's tragic death on the Verruckt waterslide. Jeff Henry, John Schooley, and Tyler Miles each played pivotal roles in the conception, design, construction, and operation of Verruckt, disregarding clear warning signs and ostensibly prioritizing financial interests over the safety of park guests.

The following timeline pulled from the indictment outlines the critical events and lapses in judgment that ultimately led to the devastating tragedy on August 7, 2016:

  • November 13, 2012: Jeff Henry conceived the idea for Verruckt on a whim to impress TV producers. Henry and John Schooley lacked the technical expertise to properly design such a complex ride but were responsible for the design anyway.
  • November-December 2012: Henry rushed the design process, skipping fundamental steps like mathematical and physics calculations. Instead, Henry and Schooley relied on crude trial-and-error methods. Henry set an unrealistic completion deadline of June 2013.
  • Late 2012: Henry and Schooley completed the design and began constructing a prototype within just 36 days of Henry conceiving the idea, an extremely short timeframe. No qualified engineers were directly involved in the ride's design.
  • 2013-2014: Early tests showed that rafts were going airborne, which Henry, Schooley, and Miles were all aware of before the ride opened to the public. The design clearly had flaws that could injure or kill riders, but the team pressed on.
  • 2014: Verruckt underwent a redesign to address the airborne raft issue, but it failed to eliminate the problem. Henry and Schooley had direct knowledge of this but kept moving forward.
  • June-July 2014: Accelerometer testing one week before opening indicated rafts would likely go airborne, but Henry and Schooley either disregarded or misinterpreted this critical safety data.
  • July 2014: Schooley signed off on Verruckt’s operation and maintenance manual, which was deficient in nearly every safety aspect imaginable. The manual lacked vital information about operating and maintaining the ride safely.
  • July 10, 2014: Henry and Schooley opened Verruckt to the public, despite clear evidence the ride was unsafe and did not comply with industry standards. As owner/operator, Henry likely bears primary responsibility for allowing an unsafe ride to open.
  • August 2014 - August 2016: Under Miles' supervision as Director of Operations, at least 13 people were injured on Verruckt over this 2-year period, some suffering broken bones, concussions and slipped spinal disks. Miles was aware of these issues but kept the ride open.
  • 2014-2016: Verruckt fell into disrepair as Henry and Schooley failed to establish proper maintenance procedures. Miles avoided or delayed repairs, even on critical safety systems, likely to keep the ride open during the park's operating season.
  • 2015-2016: Staff repeatedly informed Miles in writing that Verruckt’s brake system was failing, with reports continuing up until days before the fatal accident. Miles was directly responsible for ignoring urgent safety warnings and refusing to make repairs.
  • June 2016: After a serious injury on Raft B, it’s thought that Miles tried to cover it up by intercepting incident reports, forcing staff to write coached statements, and ordering medical reports to be altered. Miles likely knew there were major safety issues.
  • August 7, 2016: Raft B, which had been involved in many prior incidents, went airborne and killed 10-year-old Caleb, while also severely injuring two adult women. This tragic outcome was the result of the fundamentally flawed design process led by Henry and Schooley, exacerbated by Miles' mismanagement and negligence in operating the ride.

In summary, there was a long history of incidents that should have been red flags to anyone paying attention. Jeff Henry and John Schooley likely bear primary responsibility for recklessly designing an unsafe ride and ignoring red flags during testing. Henry, as owner, likely holds responsibility for allowing Verruckt to open to the public despite glaring safety issues.

Tyler Miles, as Director of Operations, was directly responsible for the ride's day-to-day operation, and thus one might conclude he was also liable for ignoring the alarming history of injuries and pressing safety concerns in the 2 years leading up to the fatal incident in August 2016. The tragedy appears to have been highly preventable if any of these three individuals had exercised due care and regard for safety at critical junctures.

Specific Design Issues with Verruckt that Violated Industry Standards

Verruckt water slide after death at Schlitterbahn Water ParkThe design of Verruckt was plagued by a multitude of egregious defects that violated essential industry safety standards established by ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). These standards, which have been widely accepted for over three decades, represent the bare minimum requirements for ensuring the safety of amusement park rides. The following list details the numerous ways in which Verruckt’s design failed to adhere to these crucial safety guidelines, putting riders' lives at risk:

  • The slide wasn't made to keep the rafts from flying up into the air.
  • The slide wasn't built to handle the different weights and speeds of the rafts that the park wanted to use.
  • The water jets that pushed the rafts up the second hill didn't work properly and couldn't adjust their force based on the weight of each raft, making the ride unpredictable and dangerous.
  • The rafts were built without knowing if they could handle the force from the water jets.
  • The rafts didn't have special safety features that keep them from flying off the slide, even though these are common in the amusement park industry.
  • The rafts weren't designed with the human body in mind, so they didn't have proper seating or ways to keep riders safely inside.
  • The Velcro seat belts weren't tested to see if they could actually keep riders secure on such an extreme ride, and the ASTM says Velcro should never be used as a safety restraint on amusement park rides.
  • The ride should have had hard, locking shoulder and lap bars to keep riders in their seats, but it didn't.
  • There were metal bars and netting right above the part of the slide where the rafts would fly into the air, which was incredibly dangerous and ended up being deadly.
  • The ASTM says that anything riders could possibly touch during the ride must be carefully looked at and made sure it won't hurt them, but the designers put metal bars right where the rafts were known to fly off the slide.
  • Riders were told not to put their hands up and couldn't wear cameras on their heads because of the danger of hitting the bars and netting.
  • The safety manual for the ride was missing a lot of important information about running the ride, checking for problems, fixing things, and what to do in an emergency.

All of these problems show that the people who designed and built Verruckt didn't pay attention to the basic safety rules for water slides, and because of that, the ride was very dangerous for the people who went on it.

History of Injuries That Occurred on Verruckt at Schlitterbahn Prior to Caleb Schwab’s Tragic Death

From the moment Verruckt opened to the public in July 2014, riders began experiencing a disturbing pattern of injuries that foreshadowed the tragic death of Caleb Schwab on August 7, 2016. As the tallest waterslide in the world, Verruckt’s flawed design, shoddy maintenance, and reckless operation exposed riders to extreme risks, resulting in a range of serious physical trauma, from lacerations and concussions to herniated disks and broken bones.

The following chronology of known injuries sustained by Verruckt riders paints a harrowing picture of the escalating dangers that park officials knew about, but consciously neglected to address in the years before Caleb Schwab’s death:

  1. August 31, 2014: A.P. (age 14) suffered a concussion, chronic neck pain, migraines, and memory loss after the raft decelerated too rapidly at the end of the ride, causing her head to be thrown forward and then slammed backward against the head rest. The sudden and forceful movement led to the head and neck trauma.
  2. June 16, 2015: Brittany Hawkins sustained several slipped disks in her back, as well as neck and head injuries. During the ride, her hook-and-loop restraint came undone, causing her to be thrown sideways in her seat as the raft went over the crest of the second hill. The raft went airborne, and when it landed, Hawkins's head crashed into the head rest. The raft then collided with the concrete wall at the end of the runout pool, exacerbating her injuries.
  3. July 5, 2015: A.M. (age 15) experienced a concussion, severe head and neck pain, vomiting, inability to eat, and memory gaps. As the ride started suddenly, A.M.'s head slammed sideways against the head rest, causing a sharp pain at the base of her skull and temporary blindness. She felt the raft go airborne and land roughly, slamming her head against the head rest a second time, leading to the concussion and associated symptoms.
  4. July 9, 2015: Ryan Shapiro injured his neck when the raft became airborne near the bottom of the main descent. When the raft landed, it slammed down with such force that Shapiro's neck was compressed and injured.
  5. July 11, 2015: Samantha Soper experienced severe neck pain after riding in a raft that had been repaired with duct tape. During the ride, Soper's head was whipped from side to side, likely due to the compromised structural integrity of the raft, resulting in neck strain and pain that persisted for several days.
  6. August 3, 2015: Natasha Radcliff suffered severe head and neck pain after the raft went airborne in the middle of the ride. Upon landing, Radcliff's head slammed against the head rest. The raft then collided with the concrete wall at the end of the runout pool, compounding the impact on her head and neck.
  7. June 20, 2016: Norris "JJ" Groves' face and forehead directly collided with an overhead hoop and netting when the raft went airborne as it crested the second hill. The impact caused his right eye to swell shut for the remainder of the day. The raft then crashed into the concrete wall at the end of the runout pool, likely causing further disorientation and pain.
  8. July 3, 2016: Richard Palmer suffered broken second and third toes on his right foot when his hook-and-loop restraint failed during the ride. To prevent being ejected from the raft, Palmer gripped the side straps and dug his feet into the corners of the raft, leading to the fractures in his toes.
  9. July 25, 2016: A.W. (age 17) sustained a deep gash across her right eyebrow that required seven stitches to close. After going down the initial descent, the force of the ride caused A.W.'s head to slam into her knees, splitting open her eyebrow.
  10. August 3, 2016: E.G. (age 15) tore the nail off his right big toe when his foot became trapped between the upper and lower inflatable portions that form the base of the raft. The pressure and movement during the ride likely contributed to the nail being ripped off.
  11. August 5, 2016: Don Slaughter suffered three herniated spinal disks, along with radiating numbness, tingling, and loss of strength in his right arm and hand. During the ride, the raft went airborne after cresting the second hill and thrashed back and forth, violently jerking Slaughter's head from side to side. The raft then collided with the concrete wall at the end of the runout pool, likely exacerbating the spinal damage.
  12. August 7, 2016: Hannah Barnes suffered a fractured jaw bone and a laceration to her head.
  13. August 7, 2016: Matraca Baetz sustained an orbital bone fracture and a laceration to her head.
  14. August 7, 2016: Caleb Schwab was killed on Verruckt. He was decapitated and killed when his raft went airborne as it crested the second hill, causing him to collide with the overhead hoops and netting that were part of the ride's structural design. The force of the impact was so severe that it resulted in the young man’s immediate death.

These detailed accounts highlight the consistent issues with the Verruckt waterslide, including rafts going airborne, abrupt decelerations, collisions with ride structures, and intense forces on the riders' bodies. The failures in the ride's design, maintenance, and operation exposed riders to severe risks, leading to a wide range of injuries and, ultimately, the tragic death of a young child.

Note also that these injuries are those that were reported. It’s unknown whether there were more people injured that either didn’t report or agreed to keep the incident confidential in return for an injury settlement.


The Schwab family ultimately received a settlement for Caleb’s wrongful death and for the negligence of the companies involved in contributing to this tragedy. Soon after the investigation into this incident, Verruckt was torn down. Good riddance. It should never have been opened in the first place.

In researching this incident, I was overcome with emotion several times. Once you have a child, you worry. It never stops. Especially in my profession, where I see all the freak accidents and horrible things that happen to people. I stress about the safety of my children. I couldn’t imagine what Caleb’s family must have gone through and what they’re still going through. This sweet boy should never have gotten hurt, and this family should never have lost their precious child.

I also felt enraged while studying this incident. In my line of work, you are constantly confronted with the reality that businesses put profit over safety. Moreover, businesses (not all of them) and insurance companies wield a tremendous amount of political influence and financial power, and they consistently paint injury claimants as liars and cheats. However, in a story like this, even the most tort-reformed individual must face the reality that there are businesses out there that will kill their loved one for a dollar.

These stories, like the story of Caleb Schwab, highlight some of the issues in our society that we might not like to face, like the fact that people get hurt and killed through no fault of their own because someone prioritized money over human life. For the sake of our children and our loved ones, we can’t let stories like this fade into the past and dissolve into the air like a morning fog. We must remember these incidents and remain ever vigilant because we’re never as safe as we like to believe. Ultimately, it on us to protect our communities and our loved ones from senseless tragedies because danger slips through the cracks every day.

Do You Need an Amusement Park Accident Attorney?

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in an Orlando, Florida amusement park or theme park, you should speak with a skilled, experienced, and aggressive amusement park accident attorney as soon as possible because you may be entitled to compensation. Please don’t hesitate to contact us on our website, or you can call our Orlando, Florida personal injury law firm today at (321) 352-7588 to schedule your free consultation by phone. When you schedule a consultation at our law firm, you will get a consultation with a lawyer, not a customer service representative or intake person.

If you need a South Carolina personal injury lawyer, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at (843) 638-6590. We have at least one lawyer licensed in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. So, if you’ve been injured in the Southeast, we have you covered. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need us.

For more information on amusement park accident cases in general, you can download our free E-Book: Amusement Park Accident Handbook: Your Guide to Amusement and Theme Park Injury Claims.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is meant to be a guarantee of results. Past case results do not guarantee future case results. Each case is unique. The information in this article has been gathered from various sources on Google. Thus, we cannot guarantee there are no inaccuracies herein. We can and will correct or remove this post upon request. You can email us at [email protected]. Finally, the information contained in this article is not meant to be legal advice in any way. If you have legal questions, you should contact an attorney.

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