Missouri tour boat captain indicted in fatal July sinking
Charges accuse him of negligence in 17 deaths during storm
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
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.