Three people have been charged for their role in a duck boat accident that killed seventeen people near Branson, MO in 2018.
Captain, Two Employees Charged
On July 16, 2021, a prosecutor charged a captain and two other employees over seventeen deaths in a duck boat accident on July 19, 2018. The duck boat sank on a Missouri lake during a severe thunderstorm.
The prosecutor filed a total of 63 felony charges in Stone County against the captain, the general manager, and the manager on duty the day of the accident for the Ride the Ducks attraction on Table Rock Lake near Branson, MO. The charges were levied against Captain Kenneth Scott McKee, general manager Curtis Lanham, and manager on duty Charles Baltzell. A federal judge had dismissed earlier charges filed by federal prosecutors after concluding that they did not have jurisdiction.
McKee faces 29 charges in total, including seventeen charges of first-degree involuntary manslaughter. The twelve other charges are for endangering child passengers on the boat. The child endangerment charges involving death are the most serious, punishable by between ten years and 30 years in prison, while the endangerment charges involving children who survived the duck boat accident carry a sentence of up to seven years.
Baltzell and Lanham face seventeen charges each of first-degree involuntary manslaughter for failing to communicate weather conditions and for failing to cease operations during a severe thunderstorm warning. Each charge alleges that the defendants “recklessly caused” the death of a passenger during the duck boat accident. State law calls for a prison sentence of between three years and ten years for a conviction on that charge.
31 Lawsuits Settled Over the Duck Boat Accident
31 people were on board when the duck boat entered the lake on that day. A storm then arrived, and the waves overwhelmed the boat before it could make it back to shore. Seventeen people died in the duck boat accident.
Ripley Entertainment, which owned the former World War II vehicle, has already settled 31 lawsuits related to the incident. Video and audio from the boat showed that the lake was calm when the boat entered the water, but the weather suddenly turned violent. The duck boat sank within minutes.
Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Green said in an affidavit that McKee failed to exercise his duties and responsibilities as a captain by going onto the lake with a severe thunderstorm warning in effect. By so doing, McKee failed to follow policies or training guidelines, and he also failed to have the boat’s passengers put on life vests as it took on water.
The wind speed at the time of the duck boat accident was more than 70 miles per hour, which the National Transportation Safety Board said was just short of hurricane force. Weather forecasts had warned of an impending storm with winds exceeding 60 miles per hour. A United States Coast Guard certificate of inspection for the duck boat that was issued in February 2017 stated that it “shall not be operated waterborne” when winds exceed 35 miles per hour and/or wave heights exceed two feet.
One of the personal injury attorneys representing plaintiffs who sued over the duck boat accident said that McKee “did just about everything wrong” and that the duck boat’s operators were trying to beat the storm to avoid having to give refunds.
“There is no question that this duck boat tour should have been canceled and the little over $900 refund should have been made,” the attorney stated in an interview. “The fact that that wasn’t done is just outrageous.”
Helping Victims Wronged by Negligence
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