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Criminal charges, including involuntary manslaughter, filed nearly 3 years after Duck Boat tragedy

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By Micheal Mahoney

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    BRANSON, Missouri (KMBC) — Stone County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Selby and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced criminal charges against Ride the Ducks Branson employees Kenneth Scott McKee, Charles Baltzell, and Curtis Lanham on Friday in relation to the sinking of Stretch Boat No. 7 on Table Rock Lake on July 19, 2018, which killed 17 people.

According to the probable cause statement, on the afternoon of July 19, 2018, Stretch Boat No. 7 entered Table Rock Lake during a severe thunderstorm warning, encountered severe weather and rough winds, took on water and eventually sunk, resulting in the deaths of 17 people.

The probable cause statement alleges that Scott McKee, the captain of Stretch Boat No. 7, failed to exercise his duties as a licensed captain by entering the lake during a severe thunderstorm warning and failed to follow policies and training by not having passengers affix flotation devices as the boat took on water.

The statement also alleges that Charles Baltzell, as Operations Supervisor, and Curtis Lanham, as General Manager, failed to communicate weather conditions and cease operations during a severe thunderstorm warning.

McKee was charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, a Class C Felony, five counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child, a Class A felony, and seven counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child, a Class D felony.

Baltzell was charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, a Class C Felony.

General Manager Curtis Lanham was charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, a Class C Felony.

In total, 63 charges were filed against the three defendants.

In April 2020, the National Transportation Safety Board released the findings of its investigation into the tragedy.

Included among the documents released by the NTSB was a letter dated April 15 in which Daniel Abel, vice admiral of the Coast Guard, said the Guard agreed with an NTSB recommendation to modify vehicles like the one that sank in Missouri.

“The removal of canopies, side curtains, and associated framing from the DUKW fleet would improve emergency egress,” the report stated. The Coast Guard said it would issue a Marine Safety Information Bulletin, the first step in the process.

The NTSB repeated criticism of the Coast Guard that it issued in November, saying the agency had ignored its recommendations to improve the boats since a duck boat accident in Arkansas killed 13 people in 1999.

The board said it has repeatedly urged the Coast Guard to require that the boats be upgraded to stay afloat when flooded, and to remove barriers to escape, such as canopies.

The boat’s owner, Ripley Entertainment, has settled more than 30 lawsuits filed by survivors or relatives of those who died. The dead included nine members of one family from Indianapolis. Other victims were from Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas.

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