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Captain Of Duck Boat That Sank Near Branson Indicted On 17 Counts Of ‘Seaman’s Manslaughter’

U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison announces the indictment of Duck boat captain Kenneth Scott McKee on 17 counts of "seaman's manslaughter" in relation to the boat's sinking in July.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KFSM) — The captain of a tourist Duck boat that sank on Table Rock Lake, killing 17 people, has been indicted on charges of “seaman’s manslaughter,” U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison announced.

A federal grand jury indicted Kenneth Scott McKee on 17 counts of “misconduct or neglect of ship’s officer,” sometimes referred to as “seaman’s manslaughter,” Garrison said.  The indictment is for violation of Title 18, section 1115 of the federal criminal code, he said.

The Ride the Ducks of Branson boat sank in a squall on July 19 before it could return to shore. The sinking killed 16 passengers and one crew member. Fourteen people survived the sinking.

The indictment alleges that “the defendant, Kenneth Scott McKee, while piloting, operating and navigating Stretch Duck 7, as captain, pilot and master of said vessel, committed several acts of misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty,” Garrison said.

Garrison said the indictment failed to assess the incoming weather properly before and while entering Table Rock Lake; that he entered the water when there was severe weather, including high winds and lightning, approaching the area; and that he operated the boat in violation of conditions and limitations specified in the vessel’s Coast Guard license; and that he operated the vessel in weather that exceeded the conditions for which the boat was rated.

Ride the Duck boat that sunk.

He also said McKee failed to tell passengers to put on their life vests as the severe weather approached, that he failed to take the most direct path to shore and do so as quickly as possible once the severe weather arrived, and he either caused the vessel’s side curtains to fall or failed to raise them, trapping the passengers inside. He also failed to abandon ship, despite the bilge alarms sounding twice on the boat, Garrison said.

“He failed to prepare to abandon ship when there was an unacceptable loss of free board, that being the distance from the surface of the water to the deck of the vessel,” he said.

The grand jury found McKee’s alleged misconduct “contributed to or caused the destruction of the lives of 17 people aboard Stretch Duck 7.”

Each charge is a class C felony, punishable by a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

“This indictment represents the beginning, and not the end, of our efforts in this matter,” Garrison said. “We’re strongly committed to bringing this investigation to a conclusion as quickly as we can without compromising or sacrificing the integrity of this investigation.

“We owe that to the victims and the surviving family members of this tragedy,” he said.

Garrison said the investigation is still ongoing, and he could not comment on whether other indictments would occur.

McKee is not in custody, but Garrison said they had been in contact with McKee’s attorney and “we anticipate that he will surrender.”

Video of this morning’s news conference can be found on the website of our Kansas City affiliate WDAF Fox 4.