The captain and two employees of a tourist duck boat that sank in a Missouri lake in July 2018, killing 17 of the 31 people aboard, have been charged by a state prosecutor, reviving the threat of long prison sentences seven months after federal charges against them were dismissed.
Captain Kenneth Scott McKee, operations supervisor Charles Baltzell and general manager Curtis Lanham were each charged this week with 17 counts of involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the Ride the Ducks disaster on Table Rock Lake near the tourist mecca of Branson, in southwestern Missouri.
The boat was overwhelmed during a fast-moving thunderstorm and sank before it could make it back to shore.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, whose office will assist with the prosecution, and Stone County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Selby announced the charges.
“The victims deserve justice,” Schmitt said in a statement.
The trio of boat employees had been charged with similar crimes in federal court, but those charges were dismissed after a judge determined the lake was not a navigable waterway under federal jurisdiction.
Among the dead were nine members of a family from Indianapolis and victims from Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas. Tia Coleman, a member of that Indianapolis family who lost her husband and three children, said in a statement that her “prayers had been answered” with the charges.
“I’m so hopeful that we are one major step closer to justice for all those that perished, and to preventing that what happened to them from ever happening again,” Coleman said.
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McKee, 54, faces 29 charges, including 17 charges of first-degree involuntary manslaughter. The 12 additional charges allege that he endangered child passengers on the boat, five of whom died.
The child-endangerment charges filed over deaths are the most serious, punishable by between 10 years and 30 years in prison. The endangerment charges involving children who survived the accident carry a sentence of up to seven years.
An affidavit from a Missouri Highway Patrol sergeant accuses McKee of failing to exercise his duties as a licensed captain by taking his amphibious vehicle onto the lake during a thunderstorm.
Baltzell, 79, and Lanham, 39, are accused of failing to communicate weather conditions and to cease operations during a severe thunderstorm warning.
Contributing: The Associated Press