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U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison announces the indictment during a news conference at his Hammons Tower office.
Photo provided by U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri
U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison announces the indictment during a news conference at his Hammons Tower office.

Ride the Ducks boat captain indicted

Posted online

The captain of the Ride the Ducks Branson vessel that capsized and left 17 people dead this summer has been indicted by a federal grand jury.

Kenneth McKee, 51, of Verona, was charged in a 17-count indictment for each of the 17 passengers. The federal charges allege McKee is guilty of misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty by a ship’s officer, resulting in the death of another person. Tim Garrison, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced the indictment Thursday at his Springfield office in Hammons Tower.

McKee piloted the duck boat known as Stretch Duck 7 during the July 19 accident on Table Rock Lake that occurred during severe weather. Among the 17 dead were a Ride the Ducks crew member and nine members of an Indiana family. McKee was implicated, along with Ripley Entertainment Inc. and Ride the Ducks International LLC, in an August lawsuit by members of the family. Ride the Ducks Branson is owned by Ripley.

In the federal indictment announced by Garrison, McKee is accused of:
    •    failing to properly assess weather conditions;
    •    operating the vehicle in violation of its conditions and limitations listed in its certificate of inspection;
    •    failing to instruct passengers to wear their flotation devices;
    •    not increasing speed and heading to the nearest shore when the storm arrived;
    •    causing or allowing the vessel’s plastic side curtains to be lowered, creating a barrier over the ship’s exits, despite the sounding of alarms; and
    •    failing to prepare to abandon ship.

“Our entire community was shocked and saddened by the loss of 17 lives in this tragic event last summer,” U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said in the release, noting the “indictment alleges that the misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty by the ship’s captain caused or contributed to the loss of those lives.”

“To better enable our office in its urgent pursuit of justice through this investigation, we have requested various courts presiding over the related civil lawsuits to allow our intervention and stay certain (matters) of discovery to prohibit those lawsuits from impeding or jeopardizing our work,” he added.

Under federal statutes, McKee could be subject to up to 10 years in federal prison without parole and a fine of $250,000 on each count of conviction, said Don Ledford, spokesman for Garrison’s office.

Ripley Entertainment is not named as a defendant in the case against McKee. A statement on the Ride the Ducks Branson website — posted below a picture showing a memorial for victims in front of Ride the Ducks — indicates the company is working through mediation related to personal injury and damage claims.

“Based on the current status of the cases and to manage the legal timeline, Ride the Ducks filed a Limitation of Liability Act proceeding, asking the court to combine all the cases related to the accident in one proceeding in federal court and to delay all proceedings,” the statement reads. “During this delay, Ride the Ducks will continue to work to mediate all claims as quickly as possible.”

Among those who have filed suit against Ripley Entertainment is Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who this week won his bid for U.S. Senate against incumbent Claire McCaskill. Hawley’s office accused Ripley and Branson Duck Vehicles LLC of violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act by allegedly making false statements in regards to the safety of the duck boats.

Ride the Ducks Branson has not reopened for business.

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