Kansas Legislature passes oversight after waterslide death
By ALLISON KITE
Kansas legislators agreed Friday to strengthen the state’s lax oversight of amusement park rides after a lawmaker’s 10-year-old son was killed while riding a waterslide.
Rep. Scott Schwab’s son Caleb died last summer on the Verruckt waterslide at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas. Schwab declined comment after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill Friday, but he made an emotional speech last week in support of the bill. The investigation into the death is ongoing, but the slide has been closed since the accident and is slated for demolition.
The Senate approved the bill 35-2, just days after the House also overwhelmingly approved changing the law. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said he wanted to look at the legislation but would be "following Rep. Schwab’s lead."
Under the legislation, amusement park rides would have to be inspected every year by qualified inspector. Current law requires inspections but allows amusement park owners do the checks themselves.
The bill requires that the professional conducting the inspection be an inspector certified by one of several national boards; an engineer with two years of experience in the amusement park field, including one year in inspections; or someone with five years of experience in the field, with two of those years in inspections. The bill also requires parks to report injuries.
Rep. John Barker, who led an effort to research reforms, said he found that Kansas regulations were some of the weakest in the country.
The state’s lax oversight of amusement park rides came under scrutiny after Caleb’s death last summer on the Verruckt, which was dubbed the "world’s tallest" waterslide at 168 feet. The slide had passed a private inspection earlier in the summer. But the ride’s opening in 2014 was pushed back without explanation, and during early trial runs, sand bags flew off the ride, so engineers partially tore it down and rebuilt it.
Investigators have not publicly spoken about how Caleb died, but a person familiar with the investigation previously told The Associated Press he was decapitated on the ride. That person spoke on condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak publicly about the boy’s death.
Caleb was riding a raft down the slide with two women who were treated for facial injuries.
The Schwab family reached an undisclosed settlement in January with the park’s owner and the manufacturer of the rafts the ride used.
The waterpark is waiting for a court order before it can tear down the slide, Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio said.