Duck Boat Captain in Missouri Is Indicted in 17 Deaths

Duck Boat Captain in Missouri Is Indicted in 17 Deaths
Captain of duck boat that killed 17 in July accident indicted on charges of misconduct, negligence
Tragedy struck when the duck boat carrying 29 passengers got caught in a fast-moving storm; Mike Tobin reports from Branson, Missouri.

Charges were filed Thursday against the captain of a Missouri duck boat that sank in severe weather in July, killing 17 people, including nine members of the same family, federal officials announced.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the incident, the captain had conducted a safety briefing before the boat entering the water, demonstrating how to use the life jacket and pointing out their location.

Kenneth Scott McKee, 51, was indicted by a federal grand jury and is facing 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship's officer resulting in death.

In 2002, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the vessels provide “reserve buoyancy” such as through watertight compartmentalization, to keep them afloat in the event of flooding.

Grand jury indicts captain of Missouri duck boat that sank in severe weather, killing 17 people

McKee is accused of not properly assessing the weather before or after the boat went on the lake near the tourist town of Branson, U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said during a news conference in Springfield.

The vessel known as a “duck boat” went down July 19 on Table Rock Lake near the city of Branson. The amphibious vehicle, which can drive on land and float in water, carried 29 passengers and two crew.

“Our entire community was shocked and saddened by the loss of 17 lives in this tragic event last summer,” Garrison said. “Today’s indictment alleges that the misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty by the ship’s captain caused or contributed to the loss of those lives.”

Survivor Tia Coleman, who lost nine family members in the disaster, had said the captain told his charges, when the boat was already in the water, that they “wont need” life jackets.

Missouri duck boat captain indicted in connection with sinking that killed 17 passengers

Garrison said that McKee operated the boat in conditions that "exceeded" what the vehicle was supposed to be able to withstand. The boat was on an excursion on July 19 on Table Rock Lake when it sank after a severe storm rolled into the area.

The boat sank while struggling to reach shore against strong winds and high waves. The accident occurred in full view of witnesses at the lake shore, which is a popular tourist draw.

Video and audio from the boat, recovered by divers, showed the lake was calm when the boat entered, but the weather suddenly turned violent.

The indictment alleges McKee failed to properly assess incoming severe weather and allowed the boats side curtains to be lowered, which allegedly trapped passengers inside.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in preliminary reports on the accident that the wind speed at the time was more than 70 mph, just short of hurricane force. Weather forecasts had warned of an impending storm with winds possibly exceeding 60 mph.

The advisory followed the 1999 sinking of the Miss Majestic with the loss of 13 lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas, because of “inadequate maintenance,” the NTSB said.

Missouri tour boat captain indicted after sinking kills 17

The wave height wasn’t known, but cell phone video shot by passengers on a nearby excursion boat showed waves that appeared to be far greater than 2 feet high.

Chicago (AFP) – A US grand jury on Thursday indicted the captain of a boat that sank in a Missouri lake during a summer thunderstorm, killing 17 people on board.

Grand jury indicts captain of duck boat invovled in deadly accident near Branson

The U.S. Coast Guard found probable cause that the accident "resulted from the misconduct, negligence, or inattention to the duties" by the boat's captain, Kenneth McKee, according to an August court filing. The U.S. attorney's office added that the captain of a second duck boat that safely made it to shore during the storm acted in a "grossly negligent manner," though the court filing didn't elaborate on those findings.

Branson Duck Boat Captain Indicted by Federal Grand Jury

The duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo., was raised four days after the tragedy. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP, File))

The U.S. Coast Guard had found probable cause that the accident resulted from McKees “misconduct, negligence, or inattention to the duties,” according to an August court filing. The U.S. attorneys office said the captain of a second duck boat that safely made it to shore during the storm acted in a “grossly negligent manner,” though the court filing didnt elaborate on those findings.

Ripley Entertainment, the company that operated the boats that were originally designed for used in World War II but refurbished as a tourist attraction, suspended operations following the accident.

On May 1, 1999, 13 people died when the Miss Majestic duck boat sank on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas. In 2015, five college students died and more than 70 people were hurt when a duck boat veered into a charter bus on a bridge in Seattle. Two Hungarian tourists died in 2010 when a stalled duck boat was struck by a tugboat-guided barge on the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

The sinking killed nine members of Tia Coleman's family, including her three young children and husband, who were vacationing from Indiana.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The captain of a tourist boat that sank in southwest Missouri and killed 17 people, including nine members of an Indiana family, didnt tell passengers to put on flotation devices or prepare them to abandon ship even after waves crashed into the boat during a severe storm, according to an indictment released Thursday.

Nine members of the Coleman family from Indiana died in the duck boat accident on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo. (GoFundMe via Coleman Family Campaign)

Several lawsuits have been filed on behalf of victims and survivors against Ripley Entertainment and other companies involved with the manufacture and operation of the boats. Robert Mongeluzzi, an attorney representing Coleman and several others, said hes confident the federal investigation will go beyond McKee.

Video: Captain in deadly Missouri duck boat crash indicted

The other people killed included two couples from Missouri, an Illinois woman who died while saving her granddaughter's life, an Arkansas father and son, and a retired pastor who was the boat's operator on land. Several lawsuits have been filed on behalf of victims and their survivors.

The federal indictment shows Kenneth Scott McKee faces 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ships officer resulting in death. The deaths occurred after the duck boat, a refurbished amphibious vessel originally used by the military during World War II, sank during a storm in July .

The vessel's certificate of inspection issued by the Coast Guard in 2017 established rules and limitations on when it could be on the water. It states the boat "shall not be operated waterborne" when winds exceed 35 mph and/or wave heights exceed 2 feet.

On Thursday, Garrison said McKee violated conditions specified in the boats certificate of inspection by failing to tell passengers to put on personal floatation devices and not immediately increasing speed and driving to the nearest shore, according to the indictment.

Back in July, a mechanical inspector told Fox news he warned the company about massive design flaws and dangerous safety issues almost a year before the tragedy.

“While nothing can ever ease the grief in my heart, I am grateful that the U.S. Attorneys Office is fighting for justice for my family, and the other victims, and is committed to holding fully accountable all those responsible for this tragedy,” Coleman said.

"My first thought was I was thankful that me and my family weren't on the ducks," Steve Paul told Fox News at the time. "My second thought was, 'Oh man, I probably inspected that boat.'"

U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said the 51-year-old McKee also is accused of failing to properly assess the weather before and after the boat went into Table Rock Lake near Branson, a Midwestern tourist town known for country music shows and entertainment venues.

Paul said he sent the company a "2-to-3-page fleet inspection report" as well as 24 checklist reports and "as many as 20 photos for each duck" he inspected in August 2017.

In the report, he cautioned that the boats' engines — and pumps that remove water from their hulls — might fail in bad weather. In rough conditions, water could get into the exhaust system, and then into the motor, cutting it off. With the motor off, its pump for removing water from the hull would not operate.

After that accident, a National Transportation Safety Board report made several nonbinding recommendations, asking operators to add flotation equipment and equip the vehicles with sufficient pumping power to keep them afloat when they begin to take on too much water. The Coast Guard and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are responsible for regulating the crafts because they run on land and in water.

Branson is among several places around the country where the amphibious vehicles offer excursions for tourists. Since 1999, 42 deaths have been associated with duck boat accidents. On May 1, 1999, 13 people died when the Miss Majestic duck boat sank on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Kenneth Scott McKee, a 51-year-old resident of Verona, Missouri, was charged with 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ships officer, officials said.

Captain of Branson duck boat that sank on Table Rock Lake indicted on federal charges

“The captain of the vessel always has a duty to operate his vessel in a safe manner and that is why Mr. McKee is under indictment this morning,” U.S. Attorney for Western District of Missouri Tim Garrison said in announcing the indictments.

Todays indictment alleges that the misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty by the ships captain caused or contributed to the loss of those lives, Timothy Garrison, United States attorney for western Missouri, said at a news conference.

The tragedy unfolded on July 19 when a Ride the Ducks amphibious boat, dubbed “Stretch Duck 7,” ventured on to Table Rock Lake during a thunderstorm with 60 mph winds.

The U.S. Coast Guard found probable cause that the accident was caused by “negligence” and “inattention to the duties” by McKee, according to an August court filing.

The Missouri Attorney Generals office has also filed a lawsuit against Ripley, claiming that the boats operators and owners had neglected to address decades of accumulated safety concerns related to the vessels.

McKee operated the boat “in violation of the conditions and limitations specified in the vessels United States Coast Guard issued Certificate of Inspection,” according to the indictment.

A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted the captain of a duck boat that sank in July during a violent thunderstorm on a Missouri lake, killing 17 passengers, including nine from the same family.

Captain Of Duck Boat That Sank Near Branson Indicted On 17 Counts Of Seamans Manslaughter

And specifically, the captain also “failed to properly assess the nature of the severe weather,” the indictment said.

Ripley Entertainment, the company that operated the boats in Missouri, suspended operations on the lake after the accident. The company did not respond to a request seeking comment on Thursday.

Captain from duck boat disaster indicted on criminal charges

Even though other boats were out on the water that stormy day, prosecutors said this boat should not have shoved off.

Charges filed against captain of Missouri tourist boat that sank, killed 17

“Well, different vessels have different ratings for what they are able to withstand,” Garrison said. “And we are alleging that Mr. McKee operated this particular vessel under conditions which exceeded those which the vessel was able to withstand.”

Captain charged by feds after 17 die when duck boat sinks in thunderstorm

Tia Coleman survived the tragic accident — but lost husband Glen Coleman, 40, and her children Maxwell Coleman, 2, Evan Coleman, 7, and Reece Coleman, 9. She thanked prosecutors on Thursday.

Captain Charged in Missouri Duck Boat Accident That Killed 17 Passengers

“While nothing can ever ease the grief in my heart, I am grateful that the U.S. Attorneys Office is fighting for justice for my family, and the other victims, and is committed to holding fully accountable all those responsible for this tragedy,” Coleman said in a statement.

Captain indicted in deadly tourist boat incident

McKee was not taken into custody on Thursday, and defense lawyer James Hobbs said hes arranging for his client to surrender next week.

David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News. Hes previously worked for The New York Post, Oakland Tribune and Los Angeles Herald Examiner.


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