TOPEKA, Kan. — The operator of a Kansas water park where a boy was killed on a giant water slide in 2016 says the park won't open for the season until safety issues raised in a recent state audit are resolved, though it believes the audit stemmed from a "malicious effort" to "stir up unfounded fear."
Attorneys for management company for the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas, also demanded in a Wednesday letter to the Kansas Department of Labor that it withdraw the audit from an inspection last week and a notice alleging 11 violations of state amusement park regulations, mostly pertaining to record-keeping and safety signs.
The attorneys contend that the department exceeded its legal authority in conducting the audit and must give the park "reasonable" time to rectify any issues — the park was scheduled to open for the season on Friday. They rejected audit findings that equipment for one ride had not been replaced as recommended by its manufacturer.
Despite their "strong disagreement" with the audit report, the attorneys wrote that the park is addressing each issue and will not open "any ride or attraction" until they are "fully addressed."
"This appears to be nothing more than a malicious effort on the part of the State to stir up unfounded fear and cast doubts on this company in the wake of the tragic accident in 2016," attorneys Erik Beard and Melanie Morgan wrote. "The state's action is unconscionable and we demand the state take remedial action to end this abuse."
The letter demanded a response by Thursday.
Department spokeswoman Barbara Hersh did not respond directly to the attorney's criticism but said the department was "encouraged" that the park said it would not open its rides until they comply with regulations.
Hersh previously said the department was "in discussions" with the local district attorney, who under Kansas law can seek a court order to keep a ride from operating.
"It is important to be proactive when conducting audits for the safety of the public," she said in an email.
Department officials promised in March to audit the Schlitterbahn park's records after a local grand jury issued multiple criminal indictments over the August 2016 death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab. He was decapitated while riding a 17-story Verruckt water slide, which was billed as the world's tallest and was shut down after his death.
The co-owner of the Texas-based Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts, one of the Verruckt slide's designers, the Kansas City park's former operations director and the company that built Verruckt all face numerous felony charges. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The recent audit made dozens of findings and said safety signs in some park areas were inadequate, records were not available for review, and some operating and training manuals were incomplete. Schlitterbahn's attorneys noted that no rides were in operation at the time and that most of the issues raised "do not generally impact guest safety."
The notice alleging 11 violations said together, they represented a first offense and the department was issuing the park a warning.
One count in the department's notice deals with the park's Soaring Eagle ZipLine, a "dry" ride that pulls riders in a two-seat chair across the park, 100 feet above the ground. The audit said inspection checklists, trainer qualification and other records weren't available for inspection and added that it has not replaced parts as recommended by the manufacturer.
But Schlitterbahn attorneys said the manufacturer did inspections each of the past two years and was issuing a "bulletin" saying the existing parts are safe.