Mis­souri tour boat cap­tain in­dicted in fa­tal July sink­ing

Charges ac­cuse him of neg­li­gence in 17 deaths dur­ing storm

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD 2 -

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The cap­tain of a tourist boat that sank in south­west Mis­souri and killed 17 peo­ple, in­clud­ing nine mem­bers of an In­di­ana fam­ily, didn’t tell pas­sen­gers to put on flota­tion de­vices or pre­pare them to aban­don ship even af­ter waves started crash­ing into the boat dur­ing a se­vere storm, ac­cord­ing to an in­dict­ment re­leased Thurs­day.

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

U.S. At­tor­ney Tim Gar­ri­son said McKee also is ac­cused of fail­ing to prop­erly as­sess the weather be­fore and af­ter the boat went into Ta­ble Rock Lake near Bran­son.

“This is the be­gin­ning, not the end, of our ef­forts in this mat­ter,” Gar­ri­son said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Spring­field.

Ri­p­ley En­ter­tain­ment op­er­ated the boats and sus­pended the op­er­a­tion fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent. It didn’t re­spond to mes­sages from The As­so­ci­ated Press. McKee’s at­tor­ney de­clined to com­ment.

If con­victed, McKee could face up to 10 years in prison for each count and a fine of $250,000. Gar­ri­son said he ex­pects McKee to sur­ren­der.

Tia Cole­man — whose hus­band, three young chil­dren and five other fam­ily mem­bers died in the sink­ing — re­leased a state­ment Thurs­day say­ing she was pleased an in­dict­ment had been filed. Cole­man was among 14 peo­ple who sur­vived.

The other peo­ple killed were 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 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 he’s con­fi­dent the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion will go be­yond McKee.

The U.S. Coast Guard found prob­a­ble cause that the ac­ci­dent re­sulted from McKee’s “mis­con­duct, neg­li­gence, or inat­ten­tion to the du­ties,” ac­cord­ing to an Au­gust court fil­ing. The U.S. at­tor­ney’s 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 didn’t elab­o­rate on those find­ings.

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

The in­dict­ment also al­leges McKee al­lowed the boat’s plas­tic side cur­tains to be low­ered, which blocked the ex­its, and didn’t in­struct pas­sen­gers to put on flota­tion de­vices or pre­pare them to aban­don ship even af­ter the bilge alarm sounded twice.

“This is the be­gin­ning, not the end, of our ef­forts in this mat­ter.” Tim Gar­ri­son, U.S. at­tor­ney, at a news con­fer­ence

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In July, work­ers raised a duck boat that sank four days ear­lier in Ta­ble Rock Lake in Bran­son, Mo. The sink­ing oc­curred dur­ing a thun­der­storm and killed 17 peo­ple, nine from the same fam­ily. The boat’s cap­tain faces 17 counts and could face up to 10 years in prison for each charge.

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