Another day, and we Kansas City area residents are fortunate enough to get another insightful Kansas City Star story on Schlitterbahn — this one on how the Caleb Schwab wrongful death lawsuit might play out in the legal system.
I should also quickly add that these investigative stories The Star is producing are just as maddening as they are insightful.
For example, The Star’s first investigative story showed how Schlitterbahn officials were essentially free to build the world’s tallest water slide, which they called Verruckt, with little or no regulatory oversight or restrictions.
They didn’t even bother to hire a professional water-slide builder. The family that owns the water attractions — one in KCK and four in Texas — decided, heck, they’d just do it themselves. We know our business…Why spend a bunch of money hirings some outsiders to tell us what we already know?
And so, as things often play out when arrogance and unregulated capitalism are the driving forces, disaster struck two weeks ago Sunday when 10-year-old Caleb was decapitated after the raft he was riding in apparently left the water channel, his body colliding with “safety” netting and perhaps metal rods supporting the netting.
Today’s story, written and reported by Scott Canon and Steve Vockrodt, appears under the headline “Legal landscape may mean we never know where Verruckt went wrong.”
Canon and Vockrodt report that while experts will probably be able to determine exactly what went wrong that day, we the public may never know.
“Taking yet-to-be-filed lawsuits all the way to trial would be costly,” the story says, “so the most likely outcome figures to be settlements. Such deals typically come with agreements to keep any findings secret.”
Here are a couple of other potentially maddening elements that Canon and Vockrodt explored.
First, in the Schwab family’s wrongful death lawsuit, Schlitterbahn might off by paying as little as $250,000, the maximum amount provided for in Kansas law. (Inexplicably, the reporters didn’t state what the comparable limit is in Missouri, and I was not able to find the answer on a Google search.)
Second, the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department is investigating to determine if a crime occurred, but a department spokesman told The Star that if they find no crime was committed (the likely result), the department would release the first page of its incident report and maybe a press release, but nothing more.
…From experience, I can tell you that 20 years or so ago, The Star would have pulled out all the stops to get the full report, when it was completed. The paper would not have hesitated to file a lawsuit; it might not have been successful, but it would have pushed it to the hilt and spared no expense.
The Star’s penchant for filing lawsuits in the interests of the public’s right to know dropped off precipitously, however, after Capital Cities/ABC sold the paper to the Walt Disney Co. in 1996. Subsequent owners KnightRidder and the McClatchy Co., which bought the paper in 2006, were equally averse to spend money on lawsuits to uncover relevant, concealed facts.
In the Schwab case, there is sufficient public interest that we may see The Star file a lawsuit. I hope they do; the public deserves it.
…On the other hand, while public interest is high, I’m afraid public outrage is not…Otherwise, how to explain throngs of people returning to Schlitterbahn when it reopened three days after Caleb’s awful death? I can’t help but think that 20 or 30 years ago, before society started becoming desensitized to lying, cheating, corner cutting and outrage itself, very few people would have darkened the door of that facility ever again.
The fact is, as I’ve pointed out in some recent posts, the public doesn’t seem to get outraged about much any more. General Motors covers up an ignition-switch problem that killed 124 people and injured 275 and what happens? GM sales go up several percentage points…Donald Trump paints Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former military POW, as “a loser” because he got captured, and many people just shrug.
Maybe it’s just the newspaperman in me, but I wonder if society’s increasing imperviousness has something to do with the demise of newspapers as the public’s primary source of information and the proliferation of less reputable, less reliable sources of information.
On second thought, maybe it’s not just the newspaperman in me. Maybe I’m on to something. I think as a society we’re paying a big price for the veritable monopoly of corporate journalism and the rolling back of the daily paper as a trusted enterprise dedicated to rooting out the truth and defending the public interest.
To me, the overall attitude of people today seems to be reflected in a great country song by Pam Tillis called “Land of the Living.”
The refrain foes like this:
Just hurry back
To the land of the living
Things have changed
Since you’ve been gone
The world is turning
In the land of the living
Take a deep breath
Life goes on… Life goes on