BRANSON, Mo. (KFVS) - Two more employees were indicted by a federal grand jury, and the captain is facing additional charges in the 2018 deadly duck boat sinking.
The duck boat sank on Table Rock Lake in July 2018, killing 17 people. It was salvaged and inspected a few days later. (Source: NTSB)
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 36-year-old Curtis P. Lanham, of Galena, Mo., and 76-year-old Charles V. Baltzell, of Kirbyville, Mo., were charged in a 47-count superseding indictment in Springfield, Mo. on Thursday, June 13.
The indictment, which was unsealed and made public on Thursday, June 20, following Lanham and Baltzell’s court appearances, also contained the original charges against Kenneth Scott McKee, 51, of Vernoa, Mo.
It replaced the federal indictment returned on November 8, 2018.
In the superseding indictment, McKee was charged with misconduct and negligence by a vessel captain, resulting in the death of another person.
Baltzell was added to each of those felony counts as an “aider and abettor” of misconduct and neglect by a vessel captain; one count for each of the 17 passengers, including one crew member, who died when Stretch Duck 7 sank.
Lanham was charged with 17 felony counts of misconduct and neglect by an executive officer of the corporate charterer/owner.
The three are also charged in 13 misdemeanor counts, one for each of the surviving passengers, with operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner that wantonly and recklessly disregarded and endangered the life, limb and property of persons on board Stretch Duck 7; or with aiding and abetting the operation of a vessel in such a grossly negligent manner.
According to the indictment, at around 11: 24 a.m., the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm watch for southwest Missouri, including Taney and Stone Counties, the City of Branson and Table Rock Lake.
The watch was valid until 9 p.m. and listed the primary threat as wide-spread, damaging winds with isolated wind gusts of up to 75 miles per hour.
The indictment stated that at 11:29 a.m. and several times throughout the day, Ripley Entertainment’s weather monitoring service sent an email to Ride the Ducks Branson about the severe thunderstorm watch.
At around 6:28 p.m., Baltzell boarded Stretch Duck 7 and allegedly directed McKee and the road driver of the boat to conduct the water portion of the tour first, due to an incoming storm.
At around 6:33 p.m., Stretch Duck 7 left Ride the Ducks Branson for the beginning of the tour with 29 passengers, ranging in age from one year to 76 years old, McKee and a road driver for the duck boat.
On the way to Table Rock Lake, McKee allegedly told the passengers of the duck boat that they were going to be rained on. At 6:50 p.m., he conducted a safety briefing before it entered the lake.
During that briefing, he allegedly told passengers the emergency exits for the boat were the side windows. He also allegedly told passengers they would not need life jackets during the water portion of the tour and, if they did, he would tell them.
At around 7 p.m., the indictment stated the leading edge of a severe thunderstorm reached the duck boat.
McKee allegedly shortened the tour route, lowered the plastic side curtains on each side of it and piloted the duck boat away from the nearby entry ramp and toward the exit ramp out of the water.
By 7:04 p.m., the bilge alarm for the duck boat sounded, notifying McKee of water onboard. He allegedly silenced it and tried to make two calls to the Ride the Ducks Branson facility but did not get a response.
At 7:07 p.m., the alarm sounded again.
From 7:05 p.m. to 7:08 p.m., McKee allegedly did not speak to, nor communicate with the duck boat passengers.
At around 7:09 p.m., Stretch Duck 7 sank on Table Rock Lake. Sixteen passengers and the duck boat’s road driver drowned. Thirteen passengers and McKee survived the sinking.
According to the indictment, at no point during the sinking did McKee tell the passengers to put on their flotation devices, pilot the duck boat toward the nearest shore, raise the plastic side curtains over the windows or prepare to, or order the passengers to abandon ship.
The indictment also alleged that at no point between the duck boat leaving the facility and its sinking, did Baltzell or Lanham communicate with McKee about the approaching severe thunderstorm.
The indictment alleged Lanham “created a work atmosphere on Stretch Duck 7 and other duck boats where the concern for profit overshadowed the concern for safety.”
He allegedly neglected to require adequate staffing while duck boat tours were ongoing, and allegedly gave those responsible for monitoring the weather other tasks that distracted them.
According to the indictment, McKee was employed by Ripley Entertainment as the captain of Stretch Duck 7, a position he held for about 18 years.
Lanham was the general manager at Ride the Ducks Branson and, according to the indictment, was responsible for the overall day-to-day management of the operations and duck boats, including Stretch Duck 7.
His duties also included setting policies and procedures for the operations and overseeing the training of employees.
Baltzell was the operations supervisor at Ride the Ducks Branson and was acting as a manager on duty. According to the indictment, he was responsible for making sure the duck boat tours ran in order and acted as a dispatcher while the tours were ongoing. His duties also included monitoring the weather and communicating with ongoing duck boat tours regarding the weather.
Ripley Entertainment, a corporation out of Orlando, Florida, owned and operated Ride the Ducks Branson from December 1, 2017 to July 20, 2018. The company managed and operated duck boat tours in Taney and Stone Counties, and was the owner and operator of the duck boat Stretch Duck 7.
The duck boat sank on Table Rock Lake on July 19, 2018, killing 17 people.
The boat was salvaged on July 23, 2018
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