Grand jury in­dicts cap­tain of tourist boat in Mis­souri

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - MAR­GARET STAFFORD

KANSAS CITY, MO. — Charges have been filed against the cap­tain of a Mis­souri tourist boat that sank and killed 17 peo­ple, in­clud­ing nine peo­ple from an In­di­ana fam­ily, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said Thurs­day.

A fed­eral in­dict­ment shows 51-year-old Ken­neth Scott Mc­Kee is fac­ing 17 counts of mis­con­duct, neg­li­gence or inat­ten­tion to duty by a ship’s of­fi­cer re­sult­ing in death. The July ac­ci­dent oc­curred when an am­phibi­ous ves­sel known as a duck boat sank on Ta­ble Rock Lake when a sud­den and se­vere storm rolled into the area. The boats were orig­i­nally de­signed for mil­i­tary use in the Sec­ond World War but had been re­fur­bished as a tourist at­trac­tion.

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. Ri­p­ley En­ter­tain­ment, the com­pany that op­er­ated the boats, sus­pended op­er­a­tions fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent.

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.

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

A spokesper­son for Ri­p­ley En­ter­tain­ment has re­peat­edly de­clined to com­ment on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion but has said the com­pany has co-op­er­ated with au­thor­i­ties. The ves­sels first take tourists on a trip through Bran­son, a Mid­west­ern des­ti­na­tion for coun­try mu­sic shows and en­ter­tain­ment venues about 170 miles (274 kilo­me­tres) north­west of Lit­tle Rock, Ark. The am­phibi­ous ve­hi­cles then travel to Ta­ble Rock Lake for a short ex­cur­sion on wa­ter.

Weather was calm when the ves­sel known as a Stretch Duck 7 be­gan its trip on July 19, but in­ves­ti­ga­tors have con­tended that op­er­a­tors had am­ple warn­ing that a strong storm was ap­proach­ing. 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 m.p.h. and/or wave heights ex­ceed two feet.

Video and au­dio from the boat, re­cov­ered by divers, showed that the lake was calm when the boat en­tered the wa­ter. But the weather sud­denly turned vi­o­lent and, within min­utes, the boat sank.

The wind speed at the time of the ac­ci­dent was more than 70 m.p.h., just short of hur­ri­cane force, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board. Weather fore­casts had warned of an im­pend­ing storm with winds pos­si­bly ex­ceed­ing 60 m.p.h..

The wave height wasn’t known, but cell­phone video shot by pas­sen­gers on a nearby ex­cur­sion boat showed waves that ap­peared to be far greater than two feet (0.61 me­tres) high.

In ad­di­tion to the weather, the Coast Guard has said it was look­ing into reg­u­la­tory com­pli­ance of the boat and crew mem­ber du­ties and qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Bran­son is among sev­eral places around the coun­try where the am­phibi­ous ve­hi­cles of­fer ex­cur­sions. 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, Ark.

J.B. FORBES TNS

Weather was calm when Stretch Duck 7 be­gan its trip on July 19, but in­ves­ti­ga­tors have con­tended op­er­a­tors had am­ple warn­ing of thestorm.

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