KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Two Kansas water park maintenance workers were acquitted Thursday of impeding an investigation into the death of a 10-year-old boy who was decapitated while riding a waterslide in August 2016.
David Hughes and John Zalsman were charged with obstruction of justice in connection to the death of Caleb Schwab, who was killed on the Verruckt slide at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City. The raft Caleb was riding in went airborne, slamming him into a metal pole. Two women on the raft also were injured.
Hughes and Zalsman were the first employees to stand trial in the case.
Prosecutors alleged the two men failed to replace a brake mat that fell off the slide two weeks earlier but told investigators that the mat had only been on the slide during testing phases. Video evidence showed that the mat was used after the ride opened to customers in 2014, prosecutors said.
"This was not a mistake, this was intentional calculated conduct," said Adam Zentner, assistant Kansas Attorney General.
The Verruckt rafts made a 17-story drop at speeds of up to 70 mph (110 kilometers per hour), followed by a surge over the hump and a 50-foot (15-meter) descent to a finishing pool. Jurors were told the brake mat was supposed to slow the rafts as they reached the top of the hump.
The defense said prosecutors didn't understand how the slide functioned and questioned the testimony of Jason Diaz, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent who interviewed the defendants. The defense also noted that another Schlitterbahn employee who made false statements to investigators wasn't charged.
"These are just two good old boys, they're hard working guys and because they're the only two adults in the room they get singled out and have to get charged ," said Scott Toth, defense attorney for Hughes, as he addressed jurors.
Diaz said he didn't believe the other employee had intentionally misled him.
Schlitterbahn has said officials have no reason to believe any employee obstructed justice.
The most serious charges in Caleb's death have been filed against one of Schlitterbahn's owners, Jeff Henry, Verruckt designer John Schooley and general contractor Henry & Sons Constructions. Each is charged with second-degree murder, aggravated battery and aggravated endangerment of a child. Another employee is charged with involuntary manslaughter. They have all pleaded not guilty.
The slide, which was billed as the world's tallest, was shut down after Caleb's was killed.