The captain of a duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake on July 19, killing 17 people, has been indicted by a federal grand jury.
Tim Garrison, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced the charges in Springfield Thursday.
“We are here today to announce the first criminal indictment related to the sinking of a vessel on Table Rock Lake in Southwest Missouri, relating to the tragic loss of 17 lives,” Garrison said.
The captain, Kenneth Scott McKee, 51, of Verona, was charged in a 17-count indictment by a federal grand jury in Springfield, according to Garrison.
“The captain of the vessel always has a duty to operate their vessel in a safe manner,” Garrison said. “That is why Mr. McKee is under indictment this morning.”
The indictment charges McKee with misconduct, negligence, or inattention to duty by a ship’s officer, resulting in the death of another person. He is charged with one count for each death, which includes 16 passengers and one employee.
“Each of the 17 counts in this indictment represents a life that was lost when Stretch Duck 7 sank while being piloted by Mr. McKee,” Garrison said.
According to Garrison, the indictment alleges McKee committed several acts of “misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty,” while piloting, navigating and operating Stretch Duck 7.
“The indictment alleges Mr. McKee failed to properly assess incoming severe weather both prior to and after entering the water of Table Rock Lake,” Garrison said. “That he entered the vessel onto the water while there was severe weather, including high winds and lightning, approaching the area.”
Garrison also said the indictment alleges McKee operated the vehicle in conditions exceeding those established by a United States Coast Guard inspection.
According to a certificate of inspection issued by the United States Coast Guard to Stretch Duck 7 from February 2017, the vehicle was instructed not to enter the water when winds exceeded 35 mph or when the waves were higher than 2 feet. According to Branson Tri-Lakes News archives, Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board said an anemometer measured wind speeds of 73 miles per hour across Table Rock Lake, two MPH slower than what is considered hurricane-force winds, while estimations of the waves were “probably generally four feet, maybe as high as six-foot crests.”
Once on the water, Garrison said, the indictment alleges McKee failed to take appropriate action during severe weather.
“He failed to instruct his passengers to don their personal flotation devices during the severe weather while Stretch Duck 7 was on the water,” he said. “He failed to immediately increase his speed and make the most direct path to shore when sever weather arrived. He either caused or allowed the vessel’s side curtains to be lowered and failed to raise them when severe weather arrived while the vessel was on the water.”
The indictment also alleges, according to Garrison, that on two separate occasions the vehicle’s bilge alarm sounded, and McKee failed to take action.
“Failed to raise the side curtains, failed to instruct his passengers to don their personal flotation devices and failed to abandon ship after two separate soundings of the vehicle’s bilge alarms,” Garrison said. “Finally, he failed to prepare to abandon ship when there was an unacceptable loss of freeboard, that being the distance of the surface of the water to the deck of the vessel.
“The grand jury further alleges that McKee’s act of misconduct, negligence and inattention of duty, contributed to or caused the destruction of the lives of 17 people aboard Stretch Duck 7.”
Garrison was unable to comment on the investigation other than to say it was ongoing and that he could not comment on any potential future indictments against any “person or entity.”
“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 the integrity of this investigation.”
Upon conviction, according to Garrison, the charges could result in 10 years of federal prison on each count of conviction, plus a fine of $250,000.
When asked about the ongoing civil lawsuits filed in regards to the sinking of Stretch Duck 7, Garrison said the criminal investigation would attempt to not hinder the civil cases.
“Part of the reason we’re trying to get our criminal investigation completed as quickly as possible is so we provide as limited a hindrance to the prosecution of those civil cases.”