Captain in deadly Branson duck boat crash indicted by grand jury

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Federal charges have been filed against the captain of a duck boat that crashed near Branson, Missouri, in July, killing 17 people including nine members of an Indianapolis family.

U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said 51-year-old Kenneth Scott McKee faces 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship's officer resulting in death. Garrison said such charges are often known as "seaman's manslaughter."

“Each of the 17 counts in this indictment is for a life that was lost when Stretch Duck 7 [the boat] sank while being piloted by Mr. McKee," Garrison said.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment against McKee. The July 19 accident on Table Rock Lake happened after severe weather swept through the area.

Nine members of the Coleman family died in the accident: Glenn, 40; Arya, 1; Evan, 7; Reece, 9; Angie, 45; Max, 2; Butch, 70; Toni, 69; and Ray, 76. Numerous civil lawsuits have been filed against the boat operator in the wake of the tragedy.

The indictment alleges McKee failed to properly assess the weather conditions before or after the boat went on the lake. He failed to increase the speed of the boat to get to safety once severe weather arrived, the indictment said. McKee didn't order passengers to put on life vests or raise the side curtains while the vessel was on the water. Garrison also said McKee failed to prepare passengers to abandon ship despite two warning alarms.

“A violation of this particular statute is a class C felony of the United States code, and a conviction under this statute carries with it the range of punishment of imprisonment for not more than 10 years, and a fine of up to $250,000,” Garrison said.

The indictment alleges McKee's negligence led to the deaths of 17 people. Garrison pointed out that the indictment contains allegations that would have to go to trial to determine McKee's guilt. The captain has been made aware of the indictment and was expected to turn himself in, Garrison said.

Garrison said the federal investigation into the crash is ongoing. He would not comment on the possibility of other indictments in the case.

Tia Coleman survived the crash. Her husband, Glenn, and three children, Arya, Evan and Reese, were killed. Coleman issued the following statement:

“While nothing can ever ease the grief in my heart, I am grateful that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is fighting for justice for my family, and the other victims, and is committed to holding fully accountable all those responsible for this tragedy.”

Her attorneys also commented on the indictment:

Robert J. Mongeluzzi, whose law firm (Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky) represents in civil litigation Mrs. Coleman and several other victims, commended the “methodical and laser-focused investigative work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri that exposes the reckless conduct of Ripley Entertainment’s employees, which operated the Duck Boat on Table Rock Lake.” He added, “We are confident that further investigation will reveal that the failures which led to this tragedy go far beyond the role of a single duck-boat Captain and implicate others in the Ripley’s entertainment empire.

His colleague, Attorney Andrew R. Duffy, added, “This indictment highlights the outrageousness of the decision to operate the death-trap duck boat in an apparent attempt to beat a widely and accurately forecasted storm”.

SMBB Attorney Jeffrey P. Goodman, said, “Our clients fully support today’s action and the continuing work of the prosecutors to punish the individuals and companies involved.”

The legal team includes Missouri-based Attorneys Gregory W. Aleshire and Kevin J. Rapp of Aleshire, Robb & Rapp.