If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ve probably head about the lawsuit over the death of a 10-year-old boy at a Kansas waterpark. For those of you unfamiliar with the case, 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was decapitated after riding on the Verruckt – which means “insane” in German. His watercraft went airborne during the ride and he collided with a safety netting, which actually caused the fatal trauma.
This week it came out that a number of executives and two companies would be charged in the boy’s death. Here’s a closer look at who has all been charged in connection with the boy’s death.
Jeffrey Henry – Co-owner of the waterpark and designer of the Verruckt. He has been charged with second-degree murder.
John Schooley – Schooley also helped design the water slide. He faces reckless second-degree murder charges.
Tyler Austin Miles – Former director of operations at the park. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Henry & Sons Construction Co. – The construction company who helped build the ride has been charged with reckless second-degree murder.
Schlitterbahn Waterpark – The water park also faces several charges in the wake of Schwab’s death.
A Challenging Case
This is a challenging case for both the prosecution and the defense, and while it’s certainly an unimaginable tragedy, we can’t help but wonder what impact Schwab’s father has on this case. Schwab’s father is Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab, which only makes this case more high profile and could play a role in why so many people and companies face the extreme charges of second-degree murder in the wake of Jacob’s death.
Defense attorneys fully admit that what happened is a tragedy, but they refute the assertion that gross negligence and improper procedures contributed to Schwab’s death.
“The incident that happened that day was a terrible and tragic accident,” read a statement on the incident. “We know that Tyler, Jeff, and John are innocent and that we run a safe operation — our 40 years of entertaining millions of people speaks to that. We are confident that their innocence will be proven in court where we know the facts will show this was an accident.”
The prosecution disagrees, saying that the ride, which earned the Guinness Book of World Record’s distinction for the world’s tallest water slide, was an ill-conceived attraction that was built to impress in spite of numerous safety concerns. The recent indictment states that Henry possessed no “technical or engineering credentials” despite controlling “many key decisions” in the design of the ride. Henry also gave an interview where he said he “could die going down this ride,” and Schwab isn’t the only person to have been injured on the ride. More than 10 other riders have suffered injuries on the ride, from facial lacerations to toe fractures.
The park has already settled with Schwab’s family for $20 million, but the criminal charges add a new wrinkle to the case. The defense will clearly argue that Henry’s statements about dying on the ride were made for marketing purposes, and that he’s designed water slides all over the world. There are certainly factors that suggest negligence on many different levels, but to prove second-degree reckless murder, from engineers and a construction company, is going to be a difficult threshold to meet.
In civil cases, the prosecution only needs to meet what’s called “the preponderance of evidence” which essentially means that the defense’s actions “more likely than not” contributed to the event in question. That threshold is much higher in criminal court, where the prosecution must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defense’s actions contributed to the incident.
For example, will the prosecution be able to prove that the construction company’s action’s contributed, beyond all reasonable doubt, to Caleb’s death? It will be a difficult threshold to prove in criminal court, but it will certainly be worth following this case as it continues.