Mis­souri tour boat cap­tain in­dicted in deadly sink­ing.

Faces 17 counts in July lake ac­ci­dent

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MAR­GARET STAFFORD

KANSAS CITY, MO. | Fed­eral charges have been filed against the cap­tain of a tourist boat that sank in a south­west Mis­souri lake in July and killed 17 peo­ple, in­clud­ing nine mem­bers of an In­di­ana fam­ily, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said Thurs­day.

A fed­eral in­dict­ment shows Ken­neth Scott McKee, 51, is fac­ing 17 counts of mis­con­duct, neg­li­gence or inat­ten­tion to duty by a ship’s of­fi­cer re­sult­ing in death.

The ac­ci­dent oc­curred when an am­phibi­ous ves­sel known as a duck boat sank when a sud­den and se­vere storm rolled into the area.

Mr. McKee is ac­cused of not prop­erly as­sess­ing the weather be­fore or af­ter the boat went into Ta­ble Rock Lake near the tourist town of Bran­son, U.S. At­tor­ney Tim A. Gar­ri­son said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Spring­field.

Mr. McKee also al­legedly failed to tell pas­sen­gers to put on their flota­tion de­vices or pre­pare them to aban­don ship as waves crashed into the boat, which was orig­i­nally de­signed for mil­i­tary use in World War II but had been re­fur­bished as a tourist at­trac­tion.

Rip­ley En­ter­tain­ment, the com­pany that op­er­ated the boats and sus­pended the op­er­a­tion fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent, didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to mes­sages from The As­so­ci­ated Press seek­ing com­ment on the in­dict­ment.

The U.S. Coast Guard had found prob­a­ble cause that the ac­ci­dent re­sulted from Mr. McKee’s “mis­con­duct, neg­li­gence, or inat­ten­tion to the du­ties,” 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 spokes­woman for Rip­ley En­ter­tain­ment re­peat­edly has de­clined to com­ment on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion but has said the com­pany has co­op­er­ated with au­thor­i­ties.

Mr. Gar­ri­son said Mr. 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 driv­ing to the near­est shore, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

The in­dict­ment also al­leges that Mr. 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.

The ves­sels first take tourists on a trip through Bran­son, a Mid­west­ern des­ti­na­tion for coun­try mu­sic shows and en­ter­tain­ment venues about 170 miles north­west of Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas. 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 mph and/or wave heights ex­ceed 2 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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A duck boat that sank in Ta­ble Rock Lake in Bran­son, Mis­souri, is raised af­ter it sank July 19, killing 17. An in­dict­ment charges its cap­tain, Ken­neth Scott McKee, with 17 counts of mis­con­duct, neg­li­gence or inat­ten­tion to duty by a ship’s of­fi­cer re­sult­ing in death.

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