Following the death of Caleb Schwab on the Verruckt waterslide at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City in 2016, five people had been charged with a variety of offences ranging from obstruction to second degree murder.
The first of the trials was held in October, with a jury acquitting two Schlitterbahn maintenance workers David Hughes and John Zalsman. The pair had been charged with lying to investigators to obstruct the investigation.
They were accused of lying about a brake pad on the Verruckt waterslide that prosecutors suggested was meant to slow the movement of the raft as it climbed a hill after the initial 17-storey descent. Prosecutors said Zalsman and Hughes told agents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in separate interviews that the brake pad was only on the slide during testing phases, but not while it was open for customers. Prosecutors suggested this was a lie to cover for them not replacing the mat.
Hughes and Zalsman let their attorneys speak on their behalf after the proceedings, with the comments published in the Kansas City Star.
Chris Joseph, who represented Zalsman, said he was relieved for his client.
“I think John really was innocent. I think he went there to try and help out. There’s no way he went there to try and throw off an investigation. I don’t believe it for a second,” said Joseph.
Jurors cite lack of evidence
Jurors said the prosecutors never produced evidence that any requests to fix the brake mat ever reached Zalsman or Hughes. Prosecutors produced lifeguard reports indicating the brake pad was peeling or had come off, but could not prove that those reports ever made it to the defendants – only that the reports made it to the park’s operations department.
“If something is not fixed over and over and over again, it’s not the maintenance guys who are lazy,” Joseph said. “If their bosses told them to go do it they would have gone to do it. These guys are not in charge of anything. They do what operations tells them to do. If operations had told them to do it, they would have done it.”
Winter Prosapio, corporate director of communications for Schlitterbahn, issued the following statement after the verdict: “We have maintained our belief in the integrity of our staff and respect the process and decision by the jury.”
Cases remain pending for other defendants associated with Verruckt.
A grand jury in April indicted Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry and Verruckt lead designer John Schooley with second-degree murder and a host of other felony charges for lacking the qualifications to design a ride like Verruckt and then ignoring warnings about its safety.
Tyler Miles, a former director of operations for the water park, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and other counts related to accusations that he covered up the poor maintenance of the waterslide.
Their trials are not yet scheduled.