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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Charges have been filed against the captain of a tourist boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in July and killed 17 people, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Kenneth Scott McKee is facing 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship's officer resulting in death, according to a federal indictment. The accident occurred when an amphibious vessel known as a duck boat sank when a sudden and severe storm rolled into the area.

McKee, 51, is accused of not properly assessing the weather before or after the boat went into the lake near Branson, U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said during a news conference in Springfield.

Garrison said McKee violated conditions specified in the boat's certificate of inspection by failing to tell passengers to put on personal flotation devices and not immediately increasing speed and driving to the nearest shore, according to the indictment.

The indictment also alleges McKee allowed the boat's plastic side curtains to be lowered, which blocked the exits.

Ripley Entertainment, the company that operated the boats and suspended operation following the accident, didn't respond Thursday afternoon to messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for the company previously said the company has cooperated with authorities.

The U.S. Coast Guard found probable cause that the accident resulted from McKee's "misconduct, negligence, or inattention to the duties," according to an August court filing. The U.S. attorney's office added that the captain of a second duck boat that safely made it to shore during the storm acted in a "grossly negligent manner," though the court filing didn't elaborate on those findings.

The sinking killed nine members of Tia Coleman's family, including her three young children and husband, who were vacationing from Indiana. Others who died included two couples from Missouri, an Illinois woman, an Arkansas father and son, and a retired pastor who was the boat's operator on land. Several lawsuits have been filed on behalf of victims and their survivors.

Weather was calm when the vessel known as a Stretch Duck 7 began its trip July 19. Investigators have contended that operators had ample warning a strong storm was approaching.

The vessel's certificate of inspection issued by the Coast Guard in 2017 established rules and limitations on when it could be on the water. It states the boat "shall not be operated waterborne" when winds exceed 35 mph and/or wave heights exceed 2 feet.

Video and audio from the boat, recovered by divers, showed the lake was calm when the boat entered the water. But the weather suddenly turned violent and, within minutes, the boat sank.

The wind speed at the time of the accident was more than 70 mph, just short of hurricane force, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Weather forecasts had warned of an impending storm with winds possibly exceeding 60 mph.

On May 1, 1999, 13 people died when the Miss Majestic duck boat sank on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs.

NW News on 11/09/2018

Print Headline: Duck boat captain charged in fatal sinking

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