Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star via AP
A crew used a barge and a crane to pull the duck boat to the surface on July 23, 2018.
Three men linked to a deadly duck boat sinking near Branson, Missouri, in July 2018 are facing a total of 63 charges related to the incident, according to a statement from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.
Kenneth Scott McKee, who captained the boat and was employed by the now defunct company “Ride the Ducks Branson,” was charged with 29 felony counts, including 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, according to a criminal complaint.
Charles Baltzell, who worked as the company’s operations supervisor, was charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, the complaint shows.
Curtis Lanham, who was employed as a general manager, was charged in the complaint with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter.
The charges stem from the fatal sinking of a duck boat – an amphibious vehicle that travels on land and water – at Table Rock Lake near Branson, a popular family vacation spot. Seventeen people, including children, died after the boat capsized during a severe thunderstorm.
McKee’s attorneys told CNN that they expect their client will enter not guilty pleas to the 29 charges.
“We are reviewing the charges, anticipate not guilty pleas will be entered, and will continue to vigorously represent Mr. McKee,” attorneys J.R. Hobbs and Marilyn B. Keller said.
According to the probable cause statement, an “investigation later determined” the duck boat “entered Table Rock Lake as part of their Ride the Ducks tour…during a severe thunderstorm warning.”
“McKee drove the Duck into the wind” and the duck boat “gradually took on water, over the course of several minutes, and finally swamped behind the Branson Belle, where it sunk in approximately 50 feet of water, stern first, to the bottom of the lake,” the probable cause statement says.
“Captain 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,” the probable cause statement says.
Baltzell’s “duties included monitoring weather and communicating with the Duck vehicles about impending weather” and he “failed in these duties on the date of the incident, which had a contributing factor in the incident and subsequent fatalities,” the probable cause statement says.
Lanham, “was responsible for the overall day to day management of operations” and he “failed to cease operation of the Ride the Ducks as severe weather approached, which included lightning, heavy rain and high winds. These actions had a contributing factor in the incident and subsequent fatalities,” according to the probable cause statement.
Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a spokesperson for Ripley Entertainment which owned “Ride the Ducks Branson,” told CNN, “We continue to cooperate with all investigations into the sudden and severe storm known as a derecho that struck Table Rock Lake in July of 2018, resulting in a tragic accident. While the Stone County Prosecutor has brought criminal charges as a result of the accident, all persons charged are entitled to a strong presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We have and will continue to offer support for our current and former employees as this process moves forward.”
CNN has contacted Lanham and Baltzell’s attorneys but did not immediately hear back.
Lanham’s attorney, Tom Bath, told the Kansas City Star, “Although this was a tragedy, we do not believe that any of those charged committed any criminal conduct and intend to fight the matter in both state and federal court.”
Justin Johnston, the attorney for Baltzell, told the Kansas City Star that his client “is innocent of all of these charges and we intend to enter a plea of not guilty and vigorously contest them. This was a tragic accident that was caused by a once-in-a generation storm and he is not guilty of what he is charged with.”
Source: CNN – US News