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63 Criminal Charges Filed Against Operators of Duck Boat in Branson Tragedy

Seventeen people — including nine members of a single family from Indiana — died on July 19, 2018 when Scott McKee piloted Stretch Duck No. 7 into Table Rock Lake during a severe thunderstorm warning and the boat was subsequently swamped by high winds and rains. One of the dead was a member of the boat’s crew.

Almost a year after federal charges were tossed on a technicality, the state of Missouri has charged three men with a total of 63 criminal counts related to the deadly sinking of World War II era duck boat during a severe storm in 2018.

Seventeen people — including nine members of a single family from Indiana — died on July 19, 2018 when Scott McKee piloted Stretch Duck No. 7 into Table Rock Lake during a severe thunderstorm warning and the boat was subsequently swamped by high winds and rains. One of the dead was a member of the boat’s crew.

McKee, Ride the Ducks Branson general manager Curtis Lanham, and Charles Baltzell, the manager on duty the day of the accident, were indicted in 2019 on a variety of neglect and misconduct charges, as CrimeOnline previously reported. But a federal judge tossed the charges last fall because they were based on admiralty law and Table Rock Lake is not considered a navigable waterway under that law.

US Magistrate Judge David P. Rush said then that the three men could be prosecuted under state law, and on Friday, Stone County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Selby and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced criminal charges against them.

McKee is charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, five counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child causing death, and seven counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child. Baltzell and Lanham are charged with 17 counts each of first-degree involuntary manslaughter.

A probable cause statement says that “McKee failed to exercise his duties and responsibilities as a licensed Captain, by entering the lake during a severe thunderstorm warning. He did not follow policy or training guidelines in that he failed to have passengers don personal floatation devices as Stretch Duck 7 took on water.”

Baltzell failed in his duties to monitor weather conditions and communicate with the Duck vehicles on the lake, and Lanham should have shut down the boats as the severe weather approached, the statement says.

“We look forward to making our case in court,” Schmitt said in a statement, according to KMBC. “The victims deserve justice.”

Ride the Ducks Branson’s owner, Ripley Entertainment, has settled more than 30 lawsuits filed against it by survivors of the accident or relatives of those who died.

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[Featured image: A duck boat sits idle in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks in Branson, Missouri in 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)]