Two Kansas employees of the Schlitterbahn water park have been acquitted in connection with the 2016 death of a 10-year-old who was decapitated while riding a massive water slide.
David Hughes and John Zalsman were found not guilty of obstructing justice in the investigation of Caleb Schwab's death. The child, whose father is a Kansas legislator, was killed on the 17-story Verruckt, billed as the world's tallest water slide.
Zalsman's attorney accused prosecutors of being "sloppy" and overreaching in trying to push the workers into turning on higher-ups in the company that owned the park. The two men, who were maintenance workers, are the first employees to stand trial in the child's death. A park owner and the slide's designer have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
Caleb was in a raft that became airborne and slammed into a pole supporting an overhead net meant to keep riders from flying off the slide. Two women on the vessel were also injured.
Prosecutors said Hughes and Zalsman failed to replace a braking mat that had fallen off the slide two weeks before. Defense lawyers countered that prosecuting attorneys didn't understand how the ride functioned.
"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 ," Scott Toth, the attorney for Hughes, told jurors.
The most serious charges from Caleb's death are against one of Schlitterbahn's owners, Jeff Henry, Verruckt designer John Schooley and general contractor Henry & Sons Constructions. They are charged with second-degree murder, aggravated battery and aggravated endangerment of a child.
All have pleaded not guilty. Their trials have not been scheduled.