Three Men Charged in 2018 Missouri Duck Boat Accident

The captain and two other employees of a tour boat company were charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter in the sinking. Seventeen people, including a family and several children, were killed when it sank.


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Three employees of a Missouri tour boat company were charged with felony criminal charges over a 2018 accident that killed 17 people on a lake, prosecutors said on Friday, bringing new charges in one of the deadliest accidents involving a tour boat in U.S. history.

The three employees, Kenneth Scott McKee, Charles Baltzell and Curtis Lanham, were charged with a total of 63 counts in relation to the sinking of the duck boat, Missouri’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, and a Stone County prosecutor, Matt Selby, said in a statement on Friday.

Mr. McKee, 54, was the captain, Mr. Lanham, 38, was the general manager and Mr. Baltzell, 79, was the manager on duty on the duck boat, a vessel modeled after the amphibious trucks used in World War II to move on land and water.

They were each charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, and Mr. McKee also faces several charges of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child.

Justin Johnston, a lawyer for Mr. Baltzell, said on Friday that his client “intends to vigorously contest these charges in court.” He added, “This accident was caused by a rare weather event, and the tragic deaths of the passengers were not the result of criminal conduct by anyone.”

J. R. Hobbs and Marilyn B. Keller, lawyers for Mr. McKee, said in a statement, “We are reviewing the charges, anticipate that not guilty pleas will be entered and will continue to vigorously represent Mr. McKee.”

A lawyer for Mr. Lanham did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The three men worked for the tour boat company Ride the Ducks Branson. A spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, which acquired the duck boat operation in 2017, said in a statement on Friday that the company continues “to cooperate with all investigations into the sudden and severe storm known as a derecho that struck Table Rock Lake in July of 2018, resulting in a tragic accident.”

She added, “while the Stone County Prosecutor has brought criminal charges as a result of the accident, all persons charged are entitled to a strong presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The new criminal charges come after a federal judge had dismissed neglect and misconduct charges against the three employees last December.

The 17 people who died when the boat sank, on the afternoon of July 19, 2018, included a family of nine and several children. The boat, Stretch Duck 7, was on Table Rock Lake during a severe thunderstorm warning in the region, and severe weather and rough winds struck the lake.

Cellphone video from a witness showed the boat taking on water and struggling to move as fierce waves struck the vessel.

The National Weather Service’s office in Springfield, Mo., had issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 6:32 p.m. for southern Missouri, including Table Rock Lake, about 35 minutes before the authorities received the first calls about the sinking boat. Wind gusts of up to 75 miles per hour were reported in the area, followed by heavy rain and lightning.

A probable cause statement accused Mr. McKee, who had 16 years of experience on the lake, of failing to exercise his duties as a licensed captain by entering the lake during the severe thunderstorm warning and failed to follow policies and training by not having passengers wear flotation devices as the boat took on water.

Mr. Baltzell and Mr. Lanham, according to the statement, also failed to communicate weather conditions and cease operations during a severe thunderstorm warning.

Because the vessel had a low profile, it took on water “over the course of several minutes,” the statement said. The boat sank into about 50 feet of water in the bottom of the lake.

“It rolled in an upright position, southwest, along the bottom of the lake, to a final position in approximately 85 feet of water,” according to the statement.

In all, the boat carried 29 passengers — including 12 children — the captain and a crew member on board when it sank, according to the probable cause statement. A crew member, whose job was to drive the vehicle when it moved onto land, and 16 passengers were killed.

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