Stone Co. prosecutor, Missouri attorney general files 63 new charges against 3 in Ride the Ducks tragedy

Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 9:35 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 16, 2021 at 10:55 AM CDT
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BRANSON, Mo. (AP) - Stone County Prosecutor Matt Selby filed a total of 63 felony criminal charges against three employees over a July 2018 tourist boat accident on a Missouri lake that killed 17 people.

The charges were filed in Stone County against the captain, the general manager and the manager on duty the day of the accident for the Ride the Ducks attraction on Table Rock Lake near the tourist mecca of Branson.

The charges against captain Kenneth Scott McKee, of Verona, general manager Curtis Lanham, of Galena, and manager on duty Charles Baltzell, of Kirbyville, came seven months after a federal judge dismissed charges filed by federal prosecutors, concluding that they did not have jurisdiction.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said the decision to go into the lake that day was criminal.

“There were also folks the GM and the operations officer who should have known better too and the consequences here were incredibly tragic,” Schmitt said.

McKee faces 29 charges, including 17 charges of first-degree involuntary manslaughter. An affidavit from a Missouri Highway Patrol sergeant accuses him of failing to exercise his duties as a licensed captain by taking his amphibious vehicle onto the lake during a thunderstorm.

“We are reviewing the charges, expect not guilty pleas will be entered and will continue vigorously represent Mr. McKee,” J.R. Hobbs and Marilyn B. Keller, who represent the captain, said in a statement.

Baltzell and Lanham face 17 charges each of first-degree involuntary manslaughter. They are accused of failing communicate weather conditions and failing to cease operations during a severe thunderstorm warning.

Attorneys for Baltzell and Lanham did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

The charges were announced by County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Selby and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Thirty-one people were aboard when the duck boat entered the lake. A storm came up suddenly and the waves swamped the boat before it could make it back to shore.

Fourteen people survived. The dead included nine members of one family from Indianapolis. Other victims were from Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas.

Survivor Tia Coleman lost nine family members that day.

Coleman’s trial attorney Andrew Duffy said there is never a good day to describe the duck boat tragedy.

”However I was happy for Tia Coleman because it was with great disappointment that she heard that the federal charges were dropped,” Andrew Duffy said.

Duffy said he is glad the federal judges recommended the state attorney general look into the charges from a state level because there was no federal jurisdiction.

”In fact Tia Coleman has asked the Stone County DA to take over the prosecution of the case and bring charges,” Duffy said.

Rides on the lake in modified former World War II vehicle once were a popular draw in the Branson area in southwest Missouri. Ripley Entertainment, which owned the former World War II vehicle, settled 31 lawsuits related to the sinking.

“With the roller coaster of charges being brought, charges being dropped and now charges being brought again there is a least a renewed hope,” Duffy said.

Read the state’s felony complaint here:

Read the investigators’ report here:

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