A judge has dismissed criminal charges against the owner of a Kansas water park where a 10-year-old boy was killed three years ago, accusing prosecutors of botching the case, the Kansas City Star reports.
On Friday, Wyandotte County Judge Robert Burns ruled that the Kansas Attorney General’s office had “irreparably tainted” grand jury proceedings with evidence that was prejudicial against the defendants.
Indictments were subsequently dismissed against the owner of the Schlitterbahn water park, its employees and business affiliates.
The case stemmed from the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab, who was riding on a 17-story water slide — once touted as the tallest in the world — when he died from decapitation. A raft he was in went airborne and struck a metal pole.
The slide was removed last year.
Burns found that prosecutors improperly presented evidence to the grand jury because some of the materials could not have been introduced at trial, including reality television clips, information about an unrelated death and expert testimony that was misleading, according to the report.
Those problems in the grand jury process were enough to warrant dismissal of the charges, which included second-degree murder against two of the defendants.
“The court has grave doubts as to whether the irregularities and improprieties improperly influenced the grand jury and ultimately bolstered its decision to indict these defendants,” Burns said in his ruling. “Quite simply, these defendants were not afforded the due process protections and fundamental fairness Kansas law requires.”
The attorney general’s office could appeal the decision or attempt to issue charges again, according to the newspaper.
In a statement, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt did not specify what his office would do.
“We are obviously disappointed and respectfully disagree with the court’s decision,” Schmidt wrote. “We will review the ruling carefully, including the court’s observation that the ruling ‘does not preclude the possibility that the State could continue to pursue this matter in a criminal court,’ and take a fresh look at the evidence and applicable law in this tragic and troubling case to determine the best course forward.”
The indictments suggested that the Schlitterbahn company, its employees and affiliates were not seriously concerned about safety and that they had disregarded safety warnings and maintenance of the ride.
A jury in October acquitted two Schlitterbahn employees of obstructing justice during the state’s investigation into the tragic incident.
Defense attorneys reportedly argued, among other claims, that it was inappropriate for the attorney general’s office to use Travel Channel footage of the ride’s construction because the material was dramatized to make the slide appear more risky than it actually was.
Burns found that argument persuasive, concluding that the footage “depicted a staged demonstration for entertainment purposes, not a factual depiction of the design and construction of the water slide.”
Still, Burns recognized the tragedy of the case.
“A young child’s life was lost and his troubling death was mourned by family, friends and the entire Kansas City community and beyond,” Burns told the newspaper.
In separate civil proceedings, the Schlitterbahn company and those involved in the design and construction of the water slide reportedly reached a settlement with the Schwab family for almost $20 million.