The most obvious and potentially lethal flaw
March 23, 2018 9:09 PM   Subscribe

In August 2016, a ten-year-old boy was decapitated while riding the tallest waterslide in the world, the Verrückt, at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, KS. The indictment has just been released, and it is damning.

The dead child, Caleb Schwab, was the son of member of the Kansas House of Representatives Scott Schwab. In April 2017, a bill to increase oversight of amusement rides in KS was passed and signed into law, though Governor Brownback later signed a following bill that delayed some of the new requirements.

Previously.
posted by vegartanipla (109 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
Link for indictment is broken.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 9:11 PM on March 23, 2018


[Fixed indictment link.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:14 PM on March 23, 2018


Yikes some prescient comments in that previously.
posted by bleep at 9:18 PM on March 23, 2018 [14 favorites]


My partner asked me why aren't these parks inspected in the same way that theme parks with roller coasters are. And I think the fact that Schlitterbahn has parks in Texas and Kansas is not a coincidence.
posted by thecjm at 9:20 PM on March 23, 2018 [31 favorites]


I read this earlier. My God. If you think legal documents are dry and want to just stick to the article, I urge you to give the indictment a read. It is, as it were, a roller-coaster ride. All of these lives were damaged beyond repair, and one was lost, because, it is alleged, somebody wanted to impress the Travel Channel.

I’m a big fan of thrill rides, but this is really making me rethink everything.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:25 PM on March 23, 2018 [45 favorites]


“After doing the research that we did in January, seeing that we had the weakest regulations and statutes in the surrounding states, it was time that we visited the issue,” said Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican. “I think we’ve done a very good job.”

I figure Barker had that quote sitting in a drawer and had originally intended to use it on the day a new law got passed to further weaken "innovation-stifling regulations."
posted by tclark at 9:31 PM on March 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


I agree - the indictment is compelling reading because it is filled with so very, very many poor decisions, with the persistent background noise behind each misstep of the complete lack of government oversight.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:32 PM on March 23, 2018 [21 favorites]


The indictment is indeed grimly fascinating. I suppose when you try to make government small enough to drown in a bathtub water park, the occasional gruesome death of a child is just the price you pay.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:49 PM on March 23, 2018 [23 favorites]


Oh my good Jesus. You know I am often pretty down on our criminal justice system but at least they did their jobs on this and god was it needed. The thoroughness of this investigation is something I’m more used to in UK police procedural than here in the US but god. Im so glad they’re going to jail. I mean if they don’t go to jail....?! Our justice system is so messed up who knows.

Also this scenario of basically one guy running his own little fiefdom according to his own bizarre whims and unreasonable timelines is SO FAMILIAR to me. I have encountered them so much in my various workplaces over the years and this story rang so true for me in that regard. I could see the whole thing unfolding in my head as clear as a movie. I’m so angry that these dumb assholes took this kid’s life and ruined so many others.
posted by bleep at 9:52 PM on March 23, 2018 [27 favorites]


I find it morbidly fascinating all in all, but especially in a striking way at the end where the waterslide is classified as a deadly weapon.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:56 PM on March 23, 2018 [7 favorites]


Quote from Henry, the designer, in the legal document: "Obviously things do fall faster than Newton said"...
posted by Harald74 at 10:40 PM on March 23, 2018 [33 favorites]


I second the recommendation to read the whole thing. It's double spaced very clearly written, even for an ESL speaker like me.
posted by Harald74 at 10:54 PM on March 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


JAIL THESE FUCKERS AND SHOW A VIDEO OF THEIR JAILING TO EVERY RAPACIOUS LITTLE SHIT WHO APPLIES FOR A BUSINESS LICENSE IN THIS DUNNING-KRUGER-FUCKING-COUNTRY.
posted by lalochezia at 11:05 PM on March 23, 2018 [58 favorites]


Action Park was not a how-to guide.

This slide sounds like what cocaine would make if it could build a ride. Ridiculous. I hope they nail these people to the wall.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:13 PM on March 23, 2018 [13 favorites]


What does it mean that Miles (the person; the park manager) and Schlitterbahn (the company) are both indicted? Does this mean that Henry (the park CEO and ride co-designer) and Schooley (the co-designer) have avoided personal criminal liability? Have they gotten away with it?

Also, from the "previous" post, was this comment ever wrong:
Safety is paramount... not just making sure noone achieves lift-off but also cleaning the water, dealing with chemicals (e.g., chlorine), electrical safety, conducting employee background checks, ensuring that adequate life guards are on duty, requiring sanitary food preparation facilities, protecting the guests from theft, assault, etc. I guarantee you that they've tested the hell out of that ride, and not just with heavy burlap sacks; they use sophisticated crash-test style dummies to be sure that people don't suffer neck injuries, etc. They will have modeled all kinds of stupid behavior, in part because the industry (like, say, the aircraft community) shares accident/incident data.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:14 PM on March 23, 2018 [25 favorites]


I guarantee you that they've tested the hell out of that ride, and not just with heavy burlap sacks; they use sophisticated crash-test style dummies to be sure that people don't suffer neck injuries, etc.

Apparently, they *did* test it with crash test dummies. It consistently failed with falling colours, but they opened it anyway. That’s the whole thing: They knew this was going to happen; they just didn’t care.

The hero of the story is the seventeen-year-old ride attendant who blew the whistle on the grizzled amusement park operator re: withholding/destroying evidence. (Write your own Scooby-Doo “meddling kids” joke.) And his B.S.-detecting mom.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:32 PM on March 23, 2018 [128 favorites]


They will have modeled all kinds of stupid behavior, in part because the industry (like, say, the aircraft community) shares accident/incident data.

Yes, that previously comment was quite wrong, but I want to jump off something in it: the "aircraft community," by which I assume is meant commercial, non-private aviation in the West, which has a ridiculously good safety record, is still a ripe source of insight into risk minimization, planning, and process improvement. Anyone (like several people I'm personally acquainted with) who read air crash reports from the NTSB could see the final accident coming really early in the indictment. Human activity is still governed by the laws of physics, which means things go wrong in a finite (though large) number of ways, and aviation has done the best job of many industries of coming up with processes and technology and regulations to make sure people don't die or get injured. The incentives are stronger in aviation - lose one jumbo and you kill 500 people - but the lessons of aviation are really wasted and much too narrowly applied. It's interesting what thecjm said, that the fact that Schlitterbahn has parks in Texas and Kansas is not a coincidence, because I read that as referencing a desire for personal freedom and lack of governmental interference correlated with, err, certain states and one political party. However, when it comes to public safety, and the laws of physics, the amount or presence of regulation is not a partisan issue!

So what struck me was the relative freedom the park operators seemed to have in a) not reporting incidents which resulted in injuries b) apparent freedom from inspection c) lack of requirements for "designers" and "engineers" to have real credentials. Seems super under-regulated. While adults can argue they're free to risk their health and life, ten-year-olds are not in the position to make those judgements.

Finally,
verrückt (German)

adjective
  1. (= geisteskrank) mad
  2. (informal) crazy
    ⇒ verrückt auf (+ accusative) or nach crazy about (inf)
    ⇒ wie verrückt like crazy (inf)
posted by iffthen at 11:46 PM on March 23, 2018 [11 favorites]


It’s also interesting to think about how the airline industry took a look at itself and did away with the idea that the captain knows best and you can’t talk back to him. A lot more people needed to be talking back and hard, here.
posted by bleep at 12:02 AM on March 24, 2018 [11 favorites]


I am appalled and exhausted by section 37 where its described how he wanted to reinvent science.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:05 AM on March 24, 2018 [10 favorites]


A lot more people needed to be talking back and hard, here.

God, yes. I look at MILES in this indictment and I think, "You could have done something. You should have said something."

And I'm guessing the guy may have tried to and got beaten down by his bosses, but that's when you quit and drop a dime. Because it's not them facing massive fines and prison time. They're incorporated. He gets no such protection.
posted by offalark at 12:08 AM on March 24, 2018


He didn’t seem interested in doing the right thing when when he was covering it up! The indictment made him seem just as gleefully invested in this thing as the other two.
posted by bleep at 12:10 AM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Jesus. On top of everything else, the Schlitterbahn attorney who lied to the police to try to get his hands on an incriminating witness report should be disbarred.
posted by teraflop at 12:10 AM on March 24, 2018 [40 favorites]


I don't per se feel sorry for Miles, but in mitigation he's only 29 now, and he was Director of Operations without having ever had a job or training outside of that company. I feel pretty strongly that his incompetence is also the other directors' fault.
posted by ambrosen at 12:44 AM on March 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


The last time I went to a water park was Schlitterbahn in July of 2016. We rode this damn thing, and my friend got to experience first-hand the hook-and-loop safety strap failing. It kind of freaks me out how little I was bothered by that at the time.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 1:19 AM on March 24, 2018 [12 favorites]


Echoing mr_roboto here, so what's going likely to happen with Henry and Schooley? The indictment seems to make their responsibility in this pretty clear, but all the news coverage seems to focus on Miles. Are there going to be further indictments?
posted by coolname at 1:36 AM on March 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


This was mind blowing.
posted by k8t at 1:59 AM on March 24, 2018


Yeesh!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:08 AM on March 24, 2018


When I was a teenager I went on an old rollercoaster and at the first hill the safety bar came loose and I came half out of my seat. I basically just hung on for the rest of the ride. I've never gone on big ride like that again.

If there can be an 'incident' at the biggest theme park in the UK within the last few years which is so bad people lose limbs then really nowhere is safe.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:51 AM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Good lord, that indictment is horrific.

What a shitshow of corruption and idiocy that company was.
posted by mediareport at 3:58 AM on March 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


Holy crap the fastener straps were velcro.
posted by parki at 4:12 AM on March 24, 2018 [11 favorites]


However, when it comes to public safety, and the laws of physics, the amount or presence of regulation is not a partisan issue!

I wish.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:15 AM on March 24, 2018 [37 favorites]


Needs a “villainy” tag.
posted by acb at 4:19 AM on March 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


It is very hard to imagine the experience of the inspector who has to watch video footage of the child being decapitated in order to ascertain that it wasn’t somehow the child’s fault.
posted by maxsparber at 4:32 AM on March 24, 2018 [34 favorites]


Before the reporting on this a couple of years ago, it never would have even occurred to me that a ride like this wouldn't be regulated.
posted by Mavri at 4:37 AM on March 24, 2018 [28 favorites]


Gov. Sam Brownback signed the measure into law in April 2017, but it faced delays in implementation as concerns surfaced about whether carnival and amusement park operators were ready to handle the law’s new requirements.
So they wrote a law saying there needs to be oversight and then when it turned out that the operators were doing shady crap they just said, forget it, I guess if you aren't ready it makes sense to just let you keep going without oversight?
New provisions — daily inspections and daily fines for each day a violation exists — were meant to replace lax oversight that existed at the time Caleb died. Scott Schwab, often a critic of burdensome regulation, supported the measure along with his House colleagues.
Sometimes burdensome regulations are there for good reason, maybe you should consider this stance more widely applicable than just your personal tragedy.
posted by jeather at 4:47 AM on March 24, 2018 [51 favorites]


fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit: Action Park was not a how-to guide.

If Action Park were still open, they’d buy this ride, no questions asked.

“Gentlemen, it’s the 21st century. If we want to compete, we have to move beyond the typical friction burns, compound fractures, and occasional crippling injury. That’s your granddad’s Action Park. We need hip, we need now, we need an Instagram-ready experience. I give you.... GUILLOTINE MOUNTAIN!”
posted by dr_dank at 5:25 AM on March 24, 2018 [10 favorites]


This Henry fella talks just like Trump. It’s making me queasy.
posted by thejoshu at 5:35 AM on March 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


> Before the reporting on this a couple of years ago, it never would have even occurred to me that a ride like this wouldn't be regulated.

If I'm reading the indictment properly, not only was there no regulation, there was nobody educated in engineering standards involved in the engineering process, and then the park lied on documents about the ride conforming to those standards. (indictment sections 3, 7, 45-49)

So it's not unreasonable to assume that the park would be trying harder to fake their way through any regulations than they would be in trying to conform to them. That can be easy or difficult to get away with, depending on the regulatory environment; strict laws with scant enforcement and trivial penalties can be worse than no regulation, in the sense that violating the law becomes a minor expense rather than a decision with consequences.
posted by ardgedee at 5:56 AM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


"All of these lives were damaged beyond repair, and one was lost, because, it is alleged, somebody wanted to impress the Travel Channel"

The question we have to ask is, was the Travel Channel impressed? It would be a real shame if the kid died for nothing.





I feel like I need to add a sarcasm disclaimer here.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:07 AM on March 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


Mr. Miles has been indicted and was arrested yesterday, I believe. Shame Henry and Schooley can be as well. For the lawyers among us, is that just because of incorporation?
posted by not that mimi at 6:14 AM on March 24, 2018


Unrelated to this: Is anybody Who Is A Lawyer But Not Our Lawyer able to say why Kansas' sentencing guidelines are all odd numbered ranges? Eg., the sentence for concealing evidence includes imprisonment for 7-23 months, level 5 aggravated battery is 31-136 months. It makes them seem weirdly arbitrary, even setting aside the issues inherent with sentencing guidelines.
posted by ardgedee at 6:15 AM on March 24, 2018


Jesus. That Section 37 of the indictment...It's horrific. The level of egotistic hubris expressed in those few paragraphs would be frightening if it wasn't sadly typical of the self-image and mind-set of so much of our "entrepreneurial" class. It's like if Trump ran a water park.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:15 AM on March 24, 2018 [15 favorites]


The failed tests of this ride before it opened were highlighted on the Kansas City local news for weeks. It was not a secret. There was active surprise when the ride finally opened because after the news reports of the rafts lifting off I think it was assumed they wouldn’t be able to fix it.

It felt like no time at all between the reports of this ride failing safety tests and the reports about the child who died.
posted by annathea at 6:27 AM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


That indictment... it reads like the most satisfying "everyone gathered in the drawing room while Miss Marple gives her summary of the story at hand" I've ever read. It's entirely damning and I hope the fuckers are found guilty and have their parks closed and are never allowed to mingle with the public again.
posted by hippybear at 6:27 AM on March 24, 2018 [11 favorites]


Does this mean that Henry (the park CEO and ride co-designer) and Schooley (the co-designer) have avoided personal criminal liability? Have they gotten away with it?

My thought was that the criminal statutes don't extend to them, but hoo boy will this indictment fuel some civil lawsuits. I hope that everyone injured on this thing gets a big piece.
posted by Sand at 6:28 AM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled."

— Richard Feynman, on the 1986 Challenger disaster
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:49 AM on March 24, 2018 [37 favorites]


I'm reminded of a bumper sticker I saw once: Guns don't kill people. Physics kills people.
posted by hippybear at 7:02 AM on March 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


The civil suits already settled.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:10 AM on March 24, 2018


Interestingly coincides with the release of the trailer for Johnny Knoxville’s new movie Action Point which is about you guessed it
posted by fungible at 7:21 AM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Henry remarked, "I could die going down this ride."

Did he ever ride it? Did any of them? Did their families?

My uncle, who could fix anything with an engine, worked in a traveling carnival after he got out of the army. He saw how the rides were kept together "with bailing wire and chewing gum" and none of us kids were ever allowed to ride them.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:28 AM on March 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


Nthing the suggestion to read the indictment. I was particularly appalled by the list of serious injuries sustained before the death of that poor kid, but the whole thing is a master class in ignoring common sense, expert advice and basic human decency. (I know, I know - what isn't these days....)

When are the novels inspired by this coming out? I feel like this is the kind of news that results in a slew of similarly plotted fiction hitting the shelves about two years later. One where we follow the lives of several other children who were injured on that ride twenty years down the line. Another that tells the story of that summer from several perspectives - the kid's state representative father, the ride designer, a teen employee. Maybe a thriller where a water park whistle blower tries to get the ride stopped while the mafia-like corporate overlords try to shut him up permanently.

(On preview, I guess the movies, at least, are here.)
posted by the primroses were over at 7:28 AM on March 24, 2018


From interplanetjanet's link, headlined "Family of Caleb Schwab receives nearly $20 million in Verrückt settlements":
> The amount of the settlements paid to the Schwabs is remarkable, Kansas City attorneys said, because Kansas has some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to damages that can be recovered in wrongful death cases. Under most scenarios, non-economic damages like pain and suffering are limited to $250,000. And... punitive damages are not allowed in wrongful death cases. One tactic ... is to also pursue a personal injury claim.... That may have been difficult to prove in the Verrückt case, and in any event, those damages are limited to $300,000.

Schwab is a current officeholder, which begs the question of why he had access to a settlement almost forty times higher than state law allows. And how this might influence any change of heart he has regarding regulation of amusement parks going forward.
posted by ardgedee at 7:28 AM on March 24, 2018 [49 favorites]


Or limits to pain and suffering/punitive damages.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:46 AM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


The whole time I was reading the indictment, I was wondering where the insurance company was in all this. It is in their interest to make sure the rides they are insuring are not going to kill and/or injure people.

Then I read the link on the civil settlements and learned that Kansas is one of those states that caps damages, and it all made a lot more sense. The huge settlement Caleb's family got looks like a giant bribe for Rep Scott Schwab to not change the current business and insurance friendly laws. Small government, y'all!
posted by chaoticgood at 7:46 AM on March 24, 2018 [62 favorites]


While adults can argue they're free to risk their health and life, ten-year-olds are not in the position to make those judgments.

Even adults presumably didn't realize they were risking their health and life when they went on this thing - I don't think I would have gone on it, but I absolutely would have assumed that it had been designed and tested in a way that ensured it was scary but safe for anybody who did want to ride. It's frightening to think there's no real way to validate this assumption. I want to still be able to enjoy the few roller coasters I'm not too wimpy to ride, but I almost feel like I need to assume recklessness and disregard for human life on the part of the corporations running these parks ... maybe I'll just stick to the carousels.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:50 AM on March 24, 2018 [16 favorites]


If only there was a good man with a waterslide, he could have stopped these bad men with their waterslide.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:53 AM on March 24, 2018 [64 favorites]


So that comment from the previous thread quoted several times above was mine. And what I described really is how water park ride design and testing is supposed to go. I can’t tell you how appalled I am by this clusterfuck of arrogance, incompetence, venality, and criminal negligence, especially skipping dynamic engineering, ignoring safety standards, and hiding so much evidence that the ride was deeply and dangerously flawed. None of the projects my former firm worked on were remotely like this; adding any new ride took years. But that firm was really expensive as were the engineers and designers with whom the firm teamed. Schlitterbahn always designed its own rides and water features, even selling them to other parks.

May the perpetrators rot in hell.
posted by carmicha at 8:06 AM on March 24, 2018 [41 favorites]


Yeah the indictment is worth reading. (For me it's point #39 that's particularly galling). But if you won't read it, The Kansas City Star has a summary.

I have a classic American attitude that if you see some crazy tourist attraction it must be safe. I mean I never think twice about going up a tower, or on a rollercoaster, or on a bungee jump, or whatever. The Big Dipper in Santa Cruz is like my ideal ride; it's a crazy rickety 100 year old wooden roller coaster that sounds like it's about to collapse into a pile of kindling but that's the fun part, because I know it must be safe. Things in the US are regulated and lawsuit-tested so frequently stuff like this child decapitation just doesn't happen. When it does it sticks out, like this case.

But oh boy then I started traveling and seeing how crazy safety standards are in the rest of the world. Particularly Thailand. Holy shit so much dangerous stuff I saw in Thailand, and happy American tourists just smiling and boarding the death contraption because hey, these things are safe right? I guess they usually are in Thailand too, I don't have data otherwise, but I have to think the relative lack of legal and regulatory protection makes a difference.
posted by Nelson at 8:13 AM on March 24, 2018 [10 favorites]


I love #63 where Henry shows up to brag about plans to build an even taller waterslide to a man who just broke his toes on this one.
posted by RobotHero at 8:23 AM on March 24, 2018 [12 favorites]


Count me among those who don't understand why Henry and Schooley aren't also personally facing criminal charges for manslaughter and aggravated assault. Henry in particular sounds like a psychopath, from details like #63 as RobotHero mentions. If given the opportunity, they will kill again.
posted by biogeo at 8:34 AM on March 24, 2018 [19 favorites]


The failed tests of this ride before it opened were highlighted on the Kansas City local news for weeks. It was not a secret. There was active surprise when the ride finally opened because after the news reports of the rafts lifting off I think it was assumed they wouldn’t be able to fix it.

It felt like no time at all between the reports of this ride failing safety tests and the reports about the child who died.


I thought it was a two-year-old ride. Well, kind of, but it had only been operational for 182 days or just over 6 months due to the annual schedule of the waterpark.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:37 AM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


So it's not unreasonable to assume that the park would be trying harder to fake their way through any regulations than they would be in trying to conform to them.

Freedom isn't free!
posted by thelonius at 8:53 AM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don't per se feel sorry for Miles, but in mitigation he's only 29 now, and he was Director of Operations without having ever had a job or training outside of that company. I feel pretty strongly that his incompetence is also the other directors' fault.
MILES intercepted the incident reports which the lifeguards had written. MILES destroyed these written witness statements. MILES then forced lifeguards to write coached statements which omitted any detail of how the injury had occurred.
I actually do feel sorry the guy for various reasons, but this sort of thing is not anyone else's "fault."
posted by mark k at 9:11 AM on March 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


Shortly before the law requiring amusement parks to be inspected by people with experience and to report injuries was postponed (why would they be unable to report injuries, what about that is too difficult to comply with?) a toddler died because she was electrocuted by a live wire on a handrail near a bouncy house.
posted by jeather at 9:18 AM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is unbelievable. Count me as one of the people who takes for granted the safety of these types of rides, which is what had made me such a fan of them in the past. They HAVE to be safe, right? Otherwise they wouldn't be allowed to operate? I miss the days of my youth, where so many things had enough regulation that I could afford to be a little reckless.

Does anyone know if there have been any similar issues with lax oversight with the Schlitterbahn in Texas, which I assume is still open? Is there any connection other than the same parent company? Would you consider it safe to visit?
posted by triggerfinger at 9:19 AM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is there any connection other than the same parent company? Would you consider it safe to visit?

Same ride designers...same owner / co-designer.... and would you really want to pay to visit that park and give more $ and support to the owner of this company who has so little regard for human life? This tragedy was driven by his greed. Don't feed his greed.
posted by aielen at 9:38 AM on March 24, 2018 [26 favorites]


Would you consider it safe to visit?

No, I wouldn't. I think aielen's point about about financial support is a good one, but just to answer your safety question in the clearest of terms: if the allegations in the indictment are true or even mostly true, Schlitterbahn the company has proven itself to have extremely poor judgement in ways that would extend beyond this specific ride or this specific site.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:59 AM on March 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


That's what I thought. I wouldn't go there, but if that's the case, I don't understand how the park in Texas is still open??
posted by triggerfinger at 10:07 AM on March 24, 2018


This ride is closed but are they still tampering with injury reports? Who’s to say they aren’t? There’s a lot of water parks out there that aren’t run and designed by confirmed bad guys.
posted by bleep at 10:08 AM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


If Action Park were still open, they’d buy this ride, no questions asked.

It actually still exists. Although the branding has flitted back and forth between "Action Park" and "Mountain Creek," and they gave up on Action Park a few years back, the park is still operating, and some of the old attractions remain. There have been occasional rumours that they're going to bring back a version of the Cannonball Loop that would actually be survivable by humans, but I would imagine the tragedy at Schlitterbahn might have given them pause.
posted by halation at 10:17 AM on March 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


37. HENRY admitted that he was ignoring established industry safety standards because he felt he could redefine those standards with his own achievements.
Guy missed his calling as a Silicon Valley exec.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 10:24 AM on March 24, 2018 [26 favorites]


For those who don't want to read the full indictment, or want a sense of how bad it is:

Diagram and photo of the water slide - diagram from the indictment; photo screencapped (and flipped to match the diagram) from the video on the news story. The photo shows how close the nets are to the slide - it's basically a tube, and when the boat goes airborne, it hits the top of the nets and the railing that holds them there.

You don't need a degree in physics to look at that photo and say "oh shit; whatever you send down that track is gonna fly." You need a degree in physics to figure out how to make it not fly. And apparently Henry fired all his physicists.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:44 AM on March 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


The huge settlement Caleb's family got looks like a giant bribe for Rep Scott Schwab to not change the current business and insurance friendly laws. Small government, y'all!

The question is -- will it work? Is 20 million dollars the price of a son?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


So, reading one of the links about how they signed a new bill into law that increases oversight on waterparks, there's a quote from one of the few Kansas lawmakers that voted against:
Rep. Jack Thimesch, a Spivey Republican, said he couldn’t support the bill because of the impact it could have on local events, like a carnival in his district.

He opposed the bill because his constituents asked him to, Thimesch said.

“The inspection deal, you don’t want to put anybody on a ride that’s unsafe,” he said. “But to that same point, you know, when it has an age limit and a height limit and a weight limit, that has nothing to do with inspection of how the piece of equipment runs. It has to do with being responsible for your grandkids or your kids to put them on that ride if you know they’re not old enough, tall enough or heavy enough.”
And this reminds me of the vaccination debate and how vaccines are a victim of their own success in that they all but eradicated horrific diseases to the point where we now have a population where a majority of people have not seen the devastating effects of smallpox, mumps, etc. first hand, which seems to lull them into a sense of security, not unlike the one that I have when I go on dangerous rides at amusement parks. When you take for granted that you're going to be safe, you maybe aren't able to as accurately assess risks and, it seems, can be more easily lulled into magical thinking like believing that all people can, on their own, accurately recognize and understand every risk that we encounter in our day to day lives.

The Verrückt is an extreme example, but how many people would look at normal amusement park rides and be able to accurately assess how old, tall or heavy a person must be to ride safely? Extend this out to other regulations we take for granted: how many people would be able to gauge that the food they buy at the supermarket is safe for consumption? How many people would know all the things you must consider when contemplating this? I don't feel confident that I could, and I consider myself to be a relatively well-informed consumer.

How about the cars we drive? How about whether or not your data is safe when you open a bank account or apply for a credit card? Is each consumer expected to do their own due diligence on companies like Equifax before handing out their social security number, so that they can feel confident that they are not vulnerable to some massive data breach that would put all their most sensitive information into the hands of bad guys?

Comments like the one this Kansas Rep made baffle me. There was a link to a blog post about John Bolton in the last politics thread, which contained an especially good quote that, I think summarizes this idea:
Tom Fenton, a career television journalist, once wrote a book suggesting that television news is so bad that it is actually a standing risk for US security, since an uninformed or misinformed public cannot play the democratic role of watchdog and is not being alerted to genuine threats.
Indeed.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:53 AM on March 24, 2018 [40 favorites]


That's what I thought. I wouldn't go there, but if that's the case, I don't understand how the park in Texas is still open??

The one in KCKS is still open, too. It's just this specific ride that was shut down.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:55 AM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Holy shit. This guy builds waterslides the way I play Rollercoaster Tycoon.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 11:57 AM on March 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


Jesus Christ, the entire franchise should be razed to the ground for this.

And yeah, 17 year-old N.W. and his mom are heroes.
posted by TwoStride at 12:26 PM on March 24, 2018 [12 favorites]


The hero of the story is the seventeen-year-old

This is broadly true recently.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:49 PM on March 24, 2018 [50 favorites]


When I was growing up my mom never let us go on portable carnival rides because she said that there was no way a ride that was built to be disassembled could also be safe and reliable especially because they were put up and taken down by randos. Whereas permanent rides at parks were ok because they were solid and inspected and regulated. So it seems to me that relying on “personal responsibility” as demonstrated by my mom in this would result in people just not going on any rides at all.
posted by bleep at 12:56 PM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


From the detail in the indictment all any of these guys had to do was to make sure no raft's passengers ever added up to more than 400lbs at the weigh-in at the bottom...

all the incompetence, ignorance, negligence, and arrogance would have been rendered harmless by the 'simple physics' of limiting the raft's momentum going into the 'jump'.
posted by dongolier at 1:33 PM on March 24, 2018


From the detail in the indictment all any of these guys had to do was to make sure no raft's passengers ever added up to more than 400lbs at the weigh-in at the bottom...

IANAE, but this ride was broken before it was ever built. There is no simple fix because the forces involved are too complicated. The uneven application of force from the blaster jets, variables in raft assembly and inflation, the apparently-intermittent functionality of the brake mat, how secure the weight load is (given the propensity of the restraint system to fail, throwing the occupants around unpredictably)... all of which were only compounded by incompetence, ignorance, and negligence. 'Simple physics' can't overcome this level of arrogance.
posted by halation at 1:48 PM on March 24, 2018 [20 favorites]


When I was growing up my mom never let us go on portable carnival rides because she said that there was no way a ride that was built to be disassembled could also be safe and reliable especially because they were put up and taken down by randos. Whereas permanent rides at parks were ok because they were solid and inspected and regulated.

Humorously enough, the exact opposite of this might be true. From saferparks.com: "The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is authorized to investigate accidents and work with manufacturers to correct defects or hazards to specific machinery, but only for mobile rides and devices. Rides operated at amusement parks and water parks are exempt from federal safety oversight."

That's a far cry from say, an accredited inspector verifying mobile rides are put together safely and properly at every stop, but it would certainly prevent manufacturers from making inherently unsafe rides such as Verrückt. FWIW most states have licensing laws for amusement ride operators but they may not be better than Kansas' minimal requirements.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:57 PM on March 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


The fact that Henry and Schooley haven't been indicted doesn't mean they won't be. This indictment provides a hell of an incentive for Miles to flip and testify against them. Schlitterbahn may be a mess of interconnected corporations, which provide limitation from civil liability for shareholders, but that doesn't mean Henry & Schooley aren't liable. As officers and directors of the corporations they can be held criminally liable for their own actions (Stewart Parnell got 28 years for selling contaminated peanut butter that killed nine people) and also face vicarious criminal liability for actions of their employees (John Park was convicted as a responsible corporate officer for rodent infestations in his company's warehouses).
posted by fogovonslack at 2:06 PM on March 24, 2018 [11 favorites]


> all the incompetence, ignorance, negligence, and arrogance would have been rendered harmless by the 'simple physics' of limiting the raft's momentum going into the 'jump'.

To elaborate on halation's comment, rendering the failures and incompetence harmless is more complicated than that. Heavy rafts went down the first slope faster so they hit the ramp at a higher speed (especially after the brake was removed). Light rafts got more lift on the ramp because of the water jets.

Another detail I haven't seen called out was that the ride was designed with four people per raft; all the initial promotional materials were illustrated this way. So I also wonder whether the rafts would have had less lift with more mass on top of them but the added momentum due to mass meant rafts always hit the terminus.

(Begging the question of why they thought a concrete wall at the end of the ride was a good idea. It's Monty Pythonesque.)
posted by ardgedee at 2:48 PM on March 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


New Braunfels General Store is the business entity that sells Schlitterbahn rides and other equipment to waterparks worldwide. They’ve shut down their web site. This Grantland article Is a pretty good deep dive into the arms race that is waterpark/ride development and some of the industry’s big personalities, including Jeff Henry. I met him once at a World Waterpark Association conference event and he seemed like a slightly manic cowboy, but full of ideas and questions about my talk, which was about thrillseekers and the role of cautious party/family members (usually mom) in making destination decisions. Honestly I was kind of thrilled that he was interested in it. But at the WWS conference, everybody was so focused on safety and preventing injuries/deaths; I remember the huge cheers when the chair announced that there had been no deaths in the preceding two or three years and the many panels on safety, training, maintenance, etc. Sure they were also thinking about the impact of accidents on insurance rates and attendance, but still. I’m still reeling about what led to this horrible tragedy.
posted by carmicha at 3:44 PM on March 24, 2018 [27 favorites]


I really appreciate your perspective, carmicha. As I said, I like thrill rides. Like others above, I always assumed that stationary rides were safer, especially following an incident when I was five and the dude at the traveling fair did not buckle me in, leading to an extremely intense few minutes on the kiddie coaster and a sharp lesson in the trustworthiness of adults (although nothing worse).

From now on, I'm going to examine the regulatory environment for any thrill rides I plan to go on, as well as the local rumors. With the internet, that shouldn't be hard, especially since I don't get to go often. I have been to traveling fairs a few times in the past years, and I've even ridden rides, because frankly I am kind of a pushover for a good go-around and they seemed okay. Things have appeared to improve considerably since I was a kid and the local yearly fair came with a bunch of carnies with a sub-Ripley's "freak" show, but as I say, that's an apparent improvement. I'm not going to trust a place again just because it has a website and the workers wear uniforms.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:39 PM on March 24, 2018


To elaborate on halation and ardgedee, in addition to the engineering decisions that led to the rafts getting air, it sounds like one of their mitigation efforts was this netting with metal hoops. That doesn’t mitigate the danger of getting airborne at all! What was the thought process?

Also clearly the attraction just had the wrong kind of restraints, because some of the injuries are whiplash, which is prevented by shoulder restraints, and there’s one injury where a rider hit her face on her knee!

Responsible theme parks test regularly with “envelope of protection” cars to ensure that guests can’t reach anything that will hurt them. E.g. This is how Disney knows you won’t get dismembered on a coaster.

Here’s a POV video of Verruckt from the before time. You can see the netting, the braking mats, and the concrete wall in the run off area. You can see the ride operator Velcroing the restraints.
posted by chrchr at 5:02 PM on March 24, 2018 [10 favorites]


Here’s video of testing with sand bags from before the opening. It looks like they had a lot more braking initially.
posted by chrchr at 5:58 PM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here’s a POV video of Verruckt yt from the before time. You can see the netting, the braking mats, and the concrete wall in the run off area. You can see the ride operator Velcroing the restraints.
posted by chrchr at 8:02 PM on March 24


Jeezus read the comments under that video. People predict the ride will kill people before it happens.
posted by runcibleshaw at 6:13 PM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


This has got me thinking about the Excalibur roller coaster at Valleyfair. I used to love going there as a kid, but Excalibur was always an iffy experience: fun, but also shaky as heck and very uncomfortable.

Then one time, I got shaken sideways against the restraints a little too much and instant pain in my back. I did my best to brace my arms and legs against the inside of the car but still every little jostle was agony. I had to gingerly extract myself from the car after the ride was over, and then I couldn't take any rough rides for the rest of the day. Hurt for several days after, too.

And at the time I just thought it was bad luck, a bad angle, whatever. But you know, how well-designed are those coasters? How regularly inspected? How much can we trust that they haven't been pulling a verrückter Schlitterbahn the whole time?
posted by traveler_ at 9:13 PM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Why jail them when you could just have them ride their own invention over and over again
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:10 PM on March 24, 2018 [16 favorites]


Well, my children are never riding a waterslide then.
posted by chiquitita at 1:19 AM on March 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Someone managed to dig up footage of an early test run with an empty raft that goes airborne. I'd ask how this ride ever reached the point where it's open to the public, but I already know the answer: it got to that point because the designers and builders didn't care about safety at all.
posted by Tau Wedel at 3:03 PM on March 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


Wow. Is that not exactly how the fatal accident happened, without the fencing?
posted by Countess Elena at 3:29 PM on March 25, 2018


Yes. This is also called out in the indictment, section 49j:

"The presence of the overhead netting and support hoops speaks volumes about the designers' extreme disregard for the value of human life. ASTM directs that any structure located within the patron clearance envelope -- meaning the area within which a rider could theoretically touch at any time during the ride -- must be carefully scrutinized and any potential for physical contact with an obstruction during the ride must be eliminated. HENRY and SCHOOLEY did the opposite; they installed metal bars directly across the known flight path."
posted by Tau Wedel at 3:53 PM on March 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


Just prototyping a model of that stupid thing in Rollercoaster Tycoon would have been enough testing to see that it was deadly dangerous.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:55 PM on March 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm guessing, (and IANAL) that the reason Henry and Schooley haven't been charged is because the only really strong charges against them at this point are pretty chickenshit negligence-level things. AFAICT from the indictment there's no evidence at this point that they were aware of the extraordinary level of operational failure and injury on the ride; they basically drop out of the indictment after the (flawed, terrible, and negligent) design and testing process. If they were in the loop on the fact that the ride was causing serious injuries, and did nothing, then they're in big fucking trouble. Unfortunately, the facts as presented support the theory that Miles diverted and destroyed all relevant reports before they ever reached the other two. If evidence surfaces that he didn't, then there's a good solid case against them.

One thing that jumped out at me is Section 86 and 87, where Schlitterbahn's attorney misrepresented himself to witnesses as carrying out the wishes of the police, and to police as having the permission of the witnesses to release their report. Isn't this serious legal malpractice? Shouldn't this guy be at a minimum disbarred and possibly facing charges?
posted by jackbishop at 6:33 AM on March 26, 2018 [12 favorites]




Aren't parks like this insured? I would assume that any such insurance would involve, say, an actual on-site inspection, getting on the ride, and examination of the rides' blueprints, design, etc., and that an insurance company wouldn't just hand out a policy without that. Like I get that they could just submit false documents to the insurer, but surely a look at this thing and a ride on it would have been enough for some serious reservations.

I just literally do not understand these monsters knowing that this ride would in all likelihood kill someone, and not doing anything about it. It literally does not make sense to me. What kind of short-term thinking is that? A bad enough accident could bankrupt their company/companies via legal fees, settlements, loss of business, etc.
posted by yasaman at 4:58 PM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Aren't parks like this insured?

So Kansas in its infinite wisdom is not only strongly de-regulation (reforms for amusement ride regulation have now been passed due to this incident) but also has a ridiculously low cap of $250,000 on wrongful death and other personal injury damages (and no changes to this absurd cap have been passed). It could well be that their insurance didn't require much assurance because they didn't think there was that much money on the line.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:13 PM on March 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


> Aren't parks like this insured?

Insurers are not obligated to underwrite bad risks, so the amusement park had this among their motivations for destroying injury reports and intimidating victims.
posted by ardgedee at 2:56 AM on March 27, 2018


Does anyone know if the lawyer was disbarred for lying directly to police? Repeatedly?
posted by talldean at 8:52 AM on March 27, 2018




Does anyone know if the lawyer was disbarred for lying directly to police? Repeatedly?

His Avvo page lists him as "Authorized to practice law" in Kansas and was updated as recently as 3/20/18.

Lawyer discipline in Kansas appears to be handled by the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, which works under the direction of the Kansas Supreme Court. This is a different court that the one that issued the indictment. In my experience in other jurisdictions, courts do not always communicate well with each other, and the disciplinary board may have been unaware of Mackay's misconduct prior to the indictment being publicized.

I think there's a pretty strong case that Mackay violated Rules of Professional Conduct 4.1 ("In the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly: (a) make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person"). But this article says that Mackay denies the allegations in the indictment. So there would need to be a hearing before the Board before any discipline would be taken.

I'm not licensed to practice law in Kansas, so this is just a result of my online research when I got curious about whether he'd been disciplined, and what lawyer disciplinary rules might apply to him.
posted by creepygirl at 1:57 PM on March 27, 2018


Not licensed in KS either, but I would imagine bar counsel will wait for the outcome of any criminal proceedings before initiating the disciplinary process.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:48 PM on March 27, 2018


So the differences in the indictments are that: Henry, Schooley and Henry & Sons Construction are charged with second degree murder where Miles and Schlitterbahn Waterpark Kansas are charged with involuntary manslaughter, and only Miles and Schlitterbahn Waterpark Kansas have the two counts of obstruction of justice. All the aggravated battery and aggravated endangering a child counts are identical in both indictments, as are the statement of facts. (I'm pretty sure about the statement of facts, though I mostly skimmed it to check for differences.)
posted by jeather at 4:36 PM on March 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


That's heartbreaking to read, also gruesome and horrific. I would like every libertarian to read that indictment. This is what regulation is for.
posted by theora55 at 5:06 PM on March 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


Schooley has been arrested, at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport after returning from China:

Designer of Waterslide That Killed Boy, 10, Surrenders to Police (Daily Beast)
Schlitterbahn waterslide designer taken into custody (Madison Park, CNN)
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 5:23 AM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


The court has unsealed the new indictment. (As mentioned above, they're very similar save for the charges at the end.)

And as also mentioned above, I hope they nail these guys to the wall.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:22 PM on April 3, 2018


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