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Judge dismisses state charges against 3 Ride the Ducks employees in 2018 tragedy

Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 1:09 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 5, 2022 at 4:18 PM CDT
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GALENA, Mo. (KY3) - A Stone County judge dismissed state charges against three employees, including the captain, in the deadly Ride the Ducks tragedy on Table Rock Lake.

Judge Alan Blankenship had delayed the decision on whether to bound the three over for trial until Tuesday. He instead dismissed all of the charges which included first-degree involuntary manslaughter and first-degree endangering the welfare of a child. A total of 63 were filed against Captain Kenneth Scott McKee and two supervisors, Curtis Lanham and Charles Baltzell.

“Calling this a tragedy is a complete understatement.” “It’s a tremendous loss of life. I’m sorry for what happened,” he said.

Judge Blankenship said the unique characteristics of the boat lead to it rapidly sinking. He also said the staff was aware of the storm, but there is no evidence they were aware of the storm’s “gust front.”

“I do not feel that the evidence supports those levels of criminal intent as defined by statute,” said Blankenship.

Defense attorney J.R. Hobbs said, “On behalf of all involved we respect the court’s decision. It was a tragedy for everyone affected. Under these circumstances, we don’t believe any further comment is appropriate.”

On July 19, 2018, Ride the Ducks’ Stretch Duck 7 with 31 people on board capsized and sank in stormy weather on Table Rock Lake. Seventeen passengers, including nine from the same family and one crew member driving the boat, drowned that night. It became one of the deadliest boating accidents in United States history.

Since the charges were filed without prejudice they can be re-filed. Stone County Prosecutor Matt Selby deferred to Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt for comment.

Schmitt released this statement:

“17 people, including children, were tragically killed on Tablerock Lake in 2018 - our hearts continue to go out to their families and loved ones. Our Office has worked to prosecute this case and the alleged offenders to the best of our ability. We’re disappointed in the Court’s decision, but we’re not giving up in our pursuit of justice on behalf of the 17 victims and their families. Our Office hopes to refile charges and continue this case, and will confer with the local prosecutor to that end in the coming days.”

Andrew Duffy, attorney for Tia Coleman sent us this statement:

“While we respect the judge’s ruling and stress that it is without prejudice, what everyone will clearly remember is there was an indefensible decision made to have the duck boats try to “beat the storm” instead of refunding passenger money. That catastrophic decision cost 17 innocent souls their lives and destroyed families. To have no one criminally responsible for the senseless, easily preventable loss of life would be grossly unjust.”

duck boat victims
duck boat victims(KY3)

In July 2021, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Stone County Prosecutor Matt Selby filed 63 criminal charges against three employees on duty, Captain Kenneth Scott McKee, and two supervisors, Curtis Lanham and Charles Baltzell, when the tragedy happened. The state-based charges, including first-degree involuntary manslaughter and first-degree endangering welfare of a child, followed months after a federal judge dismissed charges filed by federal prosecutors.

In their initial assessment, authorities blamed thunderstorms and winds that approached hurricane strength. The duck boat sank under high waves while winds around the area reached up to 70 miles per hour that day.

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