Officials investigate death of boy at Kansas water park

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The 10-year-old son of a Kansas state lawmaker died while riding a waterslide that’s billed as the world’s largest, according to officials and the boy’s family.

Few details have been released about the Sunday death on the Verruckt, a 168-foot-tall waterslide that is one of the main attractions at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City. The park was closed Monday.

Verruckt, which means “insane” in German, was certified as the world’s tallest waterslide by Guinness World Records. Riders go down the slide in multi-person rafts and have to be at last 54 inches tall, according to the park’s website. The ride will be closed pending the investigation, park spokeswoman Winter Prosapio said.

Kansas City police spokesman Officer Cameron Morgan said he didn’t have any information late Sunday, and Prosapio said more details would be released later. Messages seeking updates Monday morning weren’t immediately returned by police or the park.

“We honestly don’t know what’s happened,” she said at a news conference Sunday. “That’s why … a full investigation is necessary. We have to understand what’s happened.”

Authorities have not identified the child, but state Rep. Scott Schwab and his wife released a statement saying it was their son, Caleb Thomas Schwab.

“Since the day he was born, he brought abundant joy to our family and all those he came in contact with,” said the statement, which asked for privacy as the family grieves.

Authorities initially said the victim was 12 years old, but Clint Sprague, a pastor who is acting as a spokesman for the family, said Caleb was 10.

Scott Schwab is a Republican from Olathe. He and his wife, Michele, have four sons, Sprague said.

House Speaker Ray Merrick told the Kansas City Star Schwab’s family was “the center of his world.”

Prosapio said the boy’s family had been at the park with him on Sunday.

The 2014 opening of Verruckt was delayed multiple times, though the operators didn’t explain why. Two media sneak preview days in 2014 were canceled because of problems with a conveyor system that hauls 100-pound rafts to the top of the slide.

Prosapio said in 2014 that park officials would not hesitate to delay operation again for however long it takes to make sure the slide is safe.

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 for a show 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.

Prosapio said during the news conference that the park’s rides are inspected daily and inspected by an “outside party” before the start of each season.

State Rep. Scott Schwab and his wife released the following statement:

Michele and I want to thank the Olathe and Kansas City, Kansas communities and all of our friends and family for their outpouring of support and compassion as it relates to the sudden loss of our son, Caleb Thomas Schwab,” said Schwab. “Since the day he was born, he brought abundant joy to our family and all those he came in contact with. As we try to mend our home with him no longer with us, we are comforted knowing he believed in our Savior Jesus, and they are forever together now. We will see him another day. Your continued prayers are welcome and appreciated. We appreciate your understanding of our family’s need for privacy during this difficult time of grieving.”

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