(AP) – A local prosecutor charged a boat captain and two other employees Friday over 17 deaths in July 2018 when a tourist boat sank on a Missouri lake during a severe thunderstorm, reviving the threat of long prison sentences seven months after federal charges against them were dismissed.
The total of 63 felony charges were filed in Stone County against the captain, the general manager and the manager on duty the day of the accident for the Ride the Ducks attraction on Table Rock Lake near the tourist mecca of Branson, in southwestern Missouri.
Captain Kenneth Scott McKee, of Verona, general manager Curtis Lanham, of Galena, and manager on duty Charles Baltzell, of Kirbyville, were charged after a federal judge dismissed earlier charges filed by federal prosecutors, concluding they did not have jurisdiction.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said the new charges were filed to hold people allegedly responsible for the deaths accountable. Schmitt, whose office will assist with the prosecution, and County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Selby announced the charges.
“We look forward to making our case in court,” Schmitt said in a statement. “The victims deserve justice.”
McKee, 54, faces 29 charges, including 17 charges of first-degree involuntary manslaughter. The 12 additional charges allege that he endangered child passengers on the boat, five of whom died.
The child-endangerment charges filed over deaths are the most serious, punishable by between 10 years and 30 years in prison. The endangerment charges involving children who survived the accident carry a sentence of up to seven years.
An affidavit from a Missouri Highway Patrol sergeant accuses McKee of failing to exercise his duties as a licensed captain by taking his amphibious vehicle onto the lake during a thunderstorm.