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3 men charged in deadly duck boat accident that killed 9 family members from Indianapolis

The charges were filed against the captain, the general manager and the manager on duty the day of the accident.

INDIANAPOLIS — A prosecutor in Missouri filed 63 felony charges against three employees of a tourist boat that sank on a Missouri lake in 2018, killing 17 people — nine of who were from Indianapolis.

According to the Associated Press, the charges were filed in Stone County, Missouri, against the captain, the general manager and the manager on duty the day of the tragedy for the Ride the Ducks attraction on Table Rock Lake near 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.

Credit: Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP
In this July 23, 2018, file photo, a duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo., is raised after it went down the evening of July 19 after a thunderstorm generated near-hurricane strength winds.

The probable cause statement on behalf of Mark D. Green, Master Sergeant with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, says the employees were negligent in allowing the boat to go out on the lake during a severe thunderstorm warning.

The National Weather Service issued the warning at 6:32 p.m. on July 19, 2018. McKee, who was the boat captain, took the vessel out on the water just before 7 p.m. with 31 people on board. Within 15 minutes, the duck boat sank.

The court documents state McKee drove the boat into the wind in an effort to get back to the ramp, but it started taking on water and sank in about 50 feet of water in the middle of stormy weather.

“He did not follow policy or training guidelines in that he failed to have passengers don personal floatation devices as Stretch Duck 7 took on water,” the probable cause statement says.

RELATED: Judge dismisses criminal counts in Missouri duck boat deaths – 9 members of Indianapolis family died

RELATED: NTSB blames Coast Guard, Ripley Entertainment for duck boat tragedy

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.

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

Riders from Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and nine members of a family from Indianapolis were killed, who were later identified as Horace Coleman, 70, and his wife, Belinda Coleman, 69; Angela Coleman, 45, and her son, Maxwell Coleman, 2; Ervin Coleman, 76; Glenn Coleman, 40, and his children, Evan Coleman, 7, Reece Coleman, 9, and Arya Coleman, 1.

Credit: Provided by Coleman family
Nine members of the Coleman family, from Indianapolis, died in the 2018 duck boat accident in Branson, Missouri that killed 17 people total.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report in April 2020 on the incident and said it blames the U.S. Coast Guard and Ripley Entertainment, Inc. for the deadly accident. 

In its probable cause, the NTSB says the duck boat sank because supervisors with Ripley Entertainment still put boats on the water, even in the middle of a severe thunderstorm warning that had been forecasted and communicated to them.

Plus, the NTSB says the Coast Guard didn't force duck boats to change their design to prevent flooding, even after similar tragedies in the past. The NTSB also says, so many people died in this accident because the boats had fixed canopies and side curtains that essentially trapped passengers during an emergency.

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