Kenneth Scott McKee was indicted Thursday in connection with the tragic duck boat sinking that killed 17 people, including nine members of one family.
Prosecutors said McKee did not properly assess the weather that fateful day in July — before or after the boat went into the water. McKee also allegedly failed to tell passengers to put on their flotation devices or prepare them to abandon ship after two separate alarms sounded.
Missouri duck boat captain indicted in connection with sinking that killed 17 passengers
The captain was charged with 17 counts of misconduct and negligence or inattention to duty by a ships officer resulting in death, according to the indictment. He faces up to 10 years in prison on each count.
Video: Captain in deadly Missouri duck boat crash indicted
Grand jury indicts captain of Missouri duck boat that sank in severe weather, killing 17 people
The amphibious boat was not supposed to operate in water if winds in the area clocked in at 35 mph or waves were higher than 2 feet, according to the vessels certificate of inspection, released by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Twenty-nine passengers and 2 crew members were on board the Stretch Duck 7 on July 19, when it sank in Table Rock Lake near the tourist town of Branson, Missouri, as thunderstorms rolled into the area. The boat landed upright on its wheels.
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.
Several lawsuits have been filed on behalf of victims and survivors, including a $100 million federal lawsuit filed in Kansas City, Missouri, by lawyers representing victims of the Indiana family that lost nine relatives in the accident.
Missouri tour boat captain indicted after sinking kills 17
All but two members of the Coleman family who went on that duck boat excursion were killed in the accident. Tia Coleman lost her three young children and husband. Arya Coleman, only 1 year old, was the youngest to die and Ervin Coleman, 76, was the oldest.
Captain of tour boat that sank on Missouri lake, killing 17, indicted
In a statement through her attorneys following the indictment, Tia Coleman said “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.”
Also among the victims were two couples from Missouri, an Illinois woman who died while saving her granddaughters life, and an Arkansas father and son.
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.
“The captain did say something about life jackets,” Tia Coleman said following the accident. “He said, Above you are your life jackets. There are three sizes. Im gonna show you where they are, but you wont need them. So, no need to worry. So we didnt grab them.”
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 NTSB report on the accident does not mention the captain saying passengers wouldnt need the life jackets.
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.
Suzanne Smagala, a spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, the company that owns and operates the duck boats, told ABC News in a statement: “We recognize the importance of the grand jury process and are continuing to cooperate with the U.S. Attorneys Office and other authorities as they determine the facts surrounding the accident that occurred on July 19. Above all, we are committed to supporting all our guests, employees, and families who were affected by the accident. We offer our sincere condolences to them, and to the entire community of Branson, Missouri.
“We continue to fully cooperate with federal and state authorities, including the National Transportation Safety Board,” the statement added.
Captain Of Duck Boat That Sank Near Branson Indicted On 17 Counts Of Seamans Manslaughter
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
When the duck boat entered the lake, the waters were calm, but there had been numerous warnings of an approaching storm. Wind speeds picked up suddenly, increasing to more than 70 miles an hour. Fierce waves buffeted the boat, which took on water. Within minutes, the vessel had sunk. Fourteen people survived, including Mr. McKee.
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.
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.
Video and audio from the boat, recovered by divers, showed the lake was calm when the boat entered, but the weather suddenly turned violent.
Captain of Branson duck boat that sank on Table Rock Lake indicted on federal charges
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 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.
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.
The Captain of Missouri Tourist Duck Boat That Sank and Killed 17 People Has Been Indicted
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.
When the high winds and lightning began to threaten the boat, McKee is accused of not immediately heading for the shore. When the boat’s bilge alarm went off, as a warning that the vessel was in danger of sinking, McKee is accused of failing to urge passengers to put on life jackets and also failed to prepare to abandon the duck boat.
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))
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.
The sinking killed nine members of Tia Coleman's family, including her three young children and husband, who were vacationing from Indiana.
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)
Grand jury indicts captain of Missouri duck boat that sank and killed 17 people
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.
It’s been about 4 months since the deadly duck boat sinking and Kenneth Scott McKee, the captain of the vessel, was charged on Thursday with misconduct and negligence.
Captain from duck boat disaster indicted on criminal charges
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.
McKee is accused of failing to properly asses the weather that day, and ignoring storm warnings when he took the duck boat out on to Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo.
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.
"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.'"
Duck boat captain indicted after tour boat sinks near Branson, Missouri, killing 17
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.
Duck Boat Captain Indicted On 17 Counts – Story
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.
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.