Missouri AG Files New Duck Boat Charges

Days after a Missouri judge said there was not enough evidence to convict three men involved in the 2018 duck boat accident on Table Rock Lake that resulted in the deaths of 17 people, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed new state charges against the men. The defendants are Kenneth Scott McKee, who was piloting the boat when it sank, and two employees of the Ride the Ducks business, Curtis Lanham and Charles Baltzell. Their attorney said he was disappointed in the renewed charges.

The charges can be refiled because they were previously dismissed without prejudice.

The Stretch Duck 7 capsized on July 19, 2018, when a freak storm fronted with severe straight-line derecho winds sprang up on what had been a calm lake. The original Missouri charges claimed that McKee, the captain, failed to exercise his duties as a licensed captain by entering the lake during a severe thunderstorm warning and failed to follow policies and training by not having passengers don flotation devices as the boat took on water. It also claims that Baltzell, operations supervisor of Ride the Ducks Branson, and Lanham, general manager, failed to communicate weather conditions and cease operations during the severe thunderstorm warning.

The refiled charges came after Stone County (Mo.)  Judge Alan Blankenship dismissed all state charges against the men on April 5. He said the state had not proved recklessness or negligence. A defense expert had testified that the radar used on the duck boat would not have been able to image the 60-knot straight-line wind front that ran ahead of the pop-up storm, and that it used a smoothing-out process that made the image difficult to identify, according to local media sources. Blankenship said wearing life jackets could have increased deaths by trapping passengers against the duck boat’s canopy as it sank. 

Missouri originally filed charges in July 2021 after U.S. Judge David Rush dismissed federal charges against the men, saying his court had no jurisdiction because Table Rock Lake was not a “navigable waterway” under federal admiralty law. Each of the three was charged with 17 counts of involuntary manslaughter under Missouri law. In addition, McKee was charged with several additional counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child. 

The National Transportation Safety Board released its findings on the accident in 2020, laying partial blame on the Coast Guard for failing to implement earlier NTSB safety recommendations following a 1999 duck boat accident that killed 13 people.

The company that operated Ride the Ducks has since gone out of business after paying out civil settlements to the families who lost members. The negative publicity surrounding the incident damaged the amphibious duck boat business and sparked some similar tour boat businesses to auction off their duck boats around the nation.