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Kansas boy suffered fatal neck injury on waterslide

Caleb Schwab died Sunday while riding a waterslide in Kansas City, Kan.
(David Strickland)

A Kansas thrill ride billed as the world’s tallest waterslide remained off-limits Monday as authorities pressed to figure out how a state lawmaker’s 10-year-old son died from a neck injury while riding it.

Details remained murky about how Caleb Thomas Schwab died Sunday on the 168-foot-tall Verruckt ride — German for “insane” — that since its debut two years ago has been the top draw at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan.

Police issued a statement late Monday saying that Caleb suffered a fatal neck injury about 2:30 p.m. while he was riding the slide with two women, neither of whom was related to him. The women suffered minor facial injuries and were treated at a hospital, police said.

Emergency responders arrived to find the boy dead in a pool at the end of the ride, according to the statement, which offered no further details.

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Riders on the Verruckt waterslide at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark.
Riders on the Verruckt waterslide at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark.
(John Sleezer / Kansas City Star )

In a statement Monday, Schlitterbahn said it was “deeply and intensely saddened for the Schwab family and all who were impacted by the tragic accident.”

The park was tentatively scheduled to reopen Wednesday, but Verruckt is closed, according to the statement.

Officer Cameron Morgan, a Kansas City, Kan., police spokesman, said investigators were treating Caleb’s death as a “civil matter” rather than a criminal one and referred questions to the park.

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Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio declined interview requests Monday but told reporters a day earlier that Caleb had been at the park with family members, adding that “we honestly don’t know what’s happened.”

Leslie Castaneda, who was at Schlitterbahn on Sunday, told the Kansas City Star that she saw Caleb’s crumpled shorts or bathing suit at the bottom of the ride, along with blood on the slide’s white descending flume.

“I’m really having a tough time with it. I really am,” Castaneda said. “I saw his brother. He was screaming.”

On the waterslide certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest, riders sit in multi-person rafts during “the ultimate in water slide thrills,” subjecting “adventure seekers” to a “jaw-dropping” 17-story drop, the park’s website says. Passengers then are “blasted back up a second massive hill and then sent down yet another gut-wrenching 50-foot drop,” the website adds.

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Each rider must be at least 54 inches tall, and the group’s weight is limited to a total of 400 to 550 pounds. Authorities didn’t release information about Caleb’s height or the combined weight of his group of riders.

Caleb’s parents — Republican state Rep. Scott Schwab and his wife, Michele — have requested privacy as the family grieves, saying in a statement Sunday that “since the day he was born, [Caleb] brought abundant joy to our family and all those he came in contact with.”

Authorities initially said the victim was 12 years old, but Clint Sprague, a pastor acting as the family’s spokesman, said Caleb was 10. According to rules sent to the media in 2014, riders had to be at least 14 years old, but that requirement is no longer listed on the park’s website.

Verruckt’s 2014 opening was repeatedly delayed, though the operators didn’t explain why.

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In a news article linked to the news release announcing a 2014 delay, Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry told USA Today that he and senior designer John Schooley had based their calculations when designing the slide on roller coasters, but that didn’t translate well to a waterslide like Verruckt.

In early tests, rafts carrying sandbags flew off the slide, prompting engineers to tear down half of the ride and reconfigure some angles at a cost of $1 million, Henry said.

A promotional video about building the slide includes footage of two men riding a raft down a half-size test model and going slightly airborne as it crests the top of the first big hill.

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UPDATES:

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5:50 p.m.: The story was updated with the cause of death.

The story was originally published at 5:15 p.m.


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