Kansas Tightens Amusement Park Regulations after Boy’s Waterslide Death

By Allison Kite | April 26, 2017

The death of a colleague’s son has spurred the governor in the often anti-regulation Kansas to toughen the state’s inspection requirements for amusement parks.

A new law signed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback strengthens the state’s amusement park regulations, which currently allow parks to inspect their own rides. That policy drew scrutiny when Republican Rep. Scott Schwab’s son, Caleb, died last summer at Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Despite concern from some lawmakers that carnival ride operators would struggle to comply, both chambers approved the bill earlier this month. The House passed it 124-1, and the Senate passed it 35-2.

The law, researched and championed in part by GOP Rep. John Barker, requires that amusement park rides be inspected annually by an inspector certified by one of several national boards; a certified engineer with two years of experience in the amusement park field, at least one of those in inspections; or someone with five years of experience in the amusement park field, two of those in inspections. It also requires parks to report injuries. Barker described Kansas’ current amusement park regulations some of the loosest in the country.

Brownback had promised to follow Schwab’s lead. Schwab didn’t comment on the bill until he gave an emotional speech in support of it last month in the House. He told fellow House members that he didn’t come to the Legislature to increase regulations and he wouldn’t hold it against anyone who didn’t vote for the bill.

“But I will never deny government has a role,” he said. “And you can get to a point where there’s just not enough.”

Schwab told lawmakers the bill wasn’t about Caleb, but rather for “the next kid who goes some place in Kansas for a fun weekend.”

The law goes into effect July 1, about 11 months after Caleb died riding the 168-foot slide, dubbed the world’s tallest. Its name, “Verruckt,” is German for “insane.”

The Verruckt slide had passed a private inspection earlier in the summer. But the ride’s opening was delayed multiple times, and during early testing, sand bags flew off, so engineers partially tore it down and rebuilt it. After Caleb’s death, other previous riders said the straps that held them to the raft came loose during the ride.

Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio said there is no other ride like the Verruckt slide in the Schlitterbahn system, making it difficult to review practices and make potential safety changes to other rides. She said the company would review the bill after Brownback signed it and that the park supports increased safety regulations.

The Schwab family has reached settlements with the park’s owner, the manufacturer of the raft that carried riders down the slide, a general contractor and a company that consulted on the ride. Two women who were injured when they rode the slide with Caleb have settled with the park’s owner .

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said that his office is still reviewing the case. Prosapio has said the park will tear down the slide, but it has to wait for permission following the investigation.

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