Kansas Waterslide Death Prompts Action on Ride Regulation

By MARIA SUDEKUM | March 17, 2017

Amusement park regulations in Kansas could be tightened after a lawmaker’s son was killed last year on a water slide that a passed private inspection.

House Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman John Barker says he will hold hearings March 23-24 on a bill to strengthen inspection requirements of amusement parks.

The bill would require the parks’ insurance companies to hire engineers with some experience to inspect rides that can now be inspected privately.

The current law came under scrutiny after Olathe Republican Rep. Scott Schwab’s son, Caleb Schwab, was killed last year on the Verruckt water slide at Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City. The 10-year-old boy was in a raft with two women who were not related to him when he was decapitated. The 168-foot tall waterslide was certified by Guinness World Records as the tallest in the world. The women were treated for facial injuries.

“Verruckt” riders sit in multi-person rafts that begin with a steep drop, followed by a surge up a second hill before a 50-foot descent to a finishing pool. Each “Verruckt” rider must be at least 54 inches tall, and the combined body weight of the riders on each raft is limited to 400 to 550 pounds.

Riders are harnessed in with two nylon seatbelt-like straps – one that crosses the rider’s lap, the other stretching diagonally like a car shoulder seatbelt. Each strap is held in place by long Velcro-style straps, not by buckles. Riders also hang on to ropes inside the raft.

The slide had passed inspection by a private inspector.

Kansas statutes governing amusement rides don’t specifically mention waterslides. State law leaves it to the Kansas Department of Labor to adopt rules and regulations relating to certification and inspection of rides, adding that a permanent amusement ride must be scrutinized at least once a year by “a qualified inspector.”

Regulations require only that owners of permanent amusement rides retain records for a year and rides are randomly selected quarterly for a records audit.

Documents released last year by the state department showed that in June 2012, a records audit found that the park was not maintaining records of testing for current and previous years. The report said that instead of such testing, “visual inspections are conducted annually and daily.” There was no record of a state response, and the audit was marked “pass.”

There were no indications of further records audits, and department officials did not immediately answer questions about why that was so.

The ride has been closed and will be torn down when an investigation is completed.

(Associated Press writers Jim Suhr, Bill Draper and Margaret Stafford in Kansas City and John Hanna in Topeka contributed to this report.)

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