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3 charged in deadly Missouri duck boat accident have court hearing

Nine members of an Indianapolis family died in the 2018 sinking in Missouri.

GALENA, Missouri — The three men charged in the deaths of nine Indianapolis family members on a duck boat made their first appearance in court Wednesday.

It was a preliminary hearing to decide if the case will move forward.

The boat's captain, the operations supervisor and the general manager of Ride the Ducks boating company are charged in the 2018 sinking in Missouri. 

They each face 17 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of the 16 passengers and one crew member. 

The captain also faces 12 counts of endangering the welfare of a child. 

The charges against Kenneth Scott McKee, Curtis Lanham and Charles Baltzell came seven months after a federal judge dismissed charges filed by federal prosecutors, concluding that they did not have jurisdiction.

The probable cause statement 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

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.

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.

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

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.

And 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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