KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted Kenneth Scott McKee, the captain of the duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in July and killed 17, with 17 counts of misconduct, negligence, or inattention to duty by a ship’s officer.
U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said in a news conference in Kansas City that the charge is sometimes known as seaman's manslaughter.
The indictment accuses McKee, 51, of Verona Mo., of a series of failures that "contributed to and caused the destruction of" the lives of those on board on July 19. The indictment says McKee:
- Failed to properly assess incoming weather before entering the lake
- Entered the lake when there was lightning in the area and as severe weather approached
- Failed to properly assess the nature of the severe weather when it arrived
- Operated Stretch Duck 7 in violation of the conditions and limitations specified in the vessel’s Coast Guard issued Certificate of Inspection
- Failed to instruct the passengers to don personal flotation devices and immediately speed up and head to shore when severe weather arrived
- Caused or allowed the vessel’s side curtains to be lowered when severe weather arrived
- Failed to raise the side curtains and tell passengers to don personal flotation devices when severe weather arrived, when the vessel’s bilge alarm first sounded and when it sounded again
- Failed to prepare to abandon ship both times the bilge alarm sounded and when there was "an unacceptable loss of freeboard on the vessel"
“Our entire community was shocked and saddened by the loss of 17 lives in this tragic event last summer,” Garrison said in a press release announcing the indictment.
In the news conference, Garrison said both the wind speeds and wave heights exceeded those for which the boat was rated.
“This indictment represents the beginning, not the end of our efforts in this matter. We're strongly committed to bringing this investigation to a conclusion as quickly as we can without sacrificing or compromising the integrity of this investigation. We owe that to the victims and the surviving family members of this tragedy,” and to the public, he continued.
Garrison said he was unable to discuss the status of the investigation, other than it was ongoing, and warned reporters that he wouldn't comment on the potential for charges against “any other person or entity.”
The seaman's manslaughter charge says it can also be used against other employees on a boat, as well as owners, charterers, inspectors, or another "public officer, through whose fraud, neglect, connivance, misconduct, or violation of law the life of any person is destroyed."
Perhaps its best known recent use was after a fatal 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash that killed 11 and injured dozens. The pilot who fell asleep before the crash was sentenced in 2006 to 18 months in federal prison on 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter. The ferry's director of operations received 366 days in prison on one seaman's manslaughter count and one count of making false statements to the Coast Guard after admitting that he failed to enforce a rule that required two pilots in the wheelhouse when underway.
The Stretch Duck 7 case was referred to federal prosecutors by the U.S. Coast Guard in August.
The accident also sparked lawsuits in state and federal court by relatives of those killed and even a man who said he helped rescue survivors from the lake.
Those lawsuits claim the boat's owner, Ripley Entertainment, ignored the inherent danger of an amphibious vehicle, disregarded the safety of passengers, failed to train employees on safety procedures and failed to warn its passengers of the danger. The suit seeks unspecified damages for product liability, negligence, wrongful death and other claims.
Some of the suits have also named Ride the Ducks International and McKee.
The companies named in the suits and their lawyers have declined to comment on past suits.
No lawyer is currently listed for McKee in the criminal case.