Three men face new charges of involuntary manslaughter after a tour boat tragically sank in 2018. The suspects are Ride the Ducks Captain Kenneth Scott McKee, 53, Operations Supervisor Charles V. Baltzell, 79, and General Manager Curtis Lanham, 37.
As previously reported, a duck boat took on water during a severe thunderstorm on July 19, 2018, and the vessel with 31 people on board capsized. 17 people died, including five children, prosecutors said. Nine victims belonged to the same family.
Of that family, only mother Tia Coleman and her 13-year-old nephew Donovan, survived. Coleman lost her husband and three children. She told ABC News in an interview from her hospital bed that she could not reach the life jackets on board during the sinking.
“They showed us where they were,” she said. “But they said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You won’t need it.'”
Federal charges were originally pressed against McKee, Lanham, and Baltzell in 2019, but a judge granted McKee’s motion to dismiss the second superseding indictment for lack of admiralty jurisdiction. At the end of the day, this just punted the ball to state prosecutors.
McKee, Baltzell, and Lanham allegedly botched their management of the boat that day and were responsible for it going to Table Rock Lake amid dangerous weather conditions.
“Captain McKee failed to exercise his duties and responsibilities as a licensed Captain, by entering the lake during a severe thunderstorm warning,” said the statement of probable cause. “He did not follow policy or training guidelines in that he failed to have passengers don personal floatation devices as Stretch Duck 7 took on water.”
He faces 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, five counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child as a Class A felony, and seven counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child as a Class D felony.
“We are reviewing the charges,” J.R. Hobbs, who is representing McKee with co-counsel Marilyn B. Keller, told Law&Crime. “We anticipate not guilty pleas will be entered, and we will continue to vigorously represent Mr. McKee.”
Baltzell was identified as the on-duty manager at the time of the incident. He allegedly failed to report the deteriorating weather.
“He was responsible for the daily operations of the Duck Boats,” documents stated. “His duties included monitoring weather and communicating with the Duck vehicles about impending weather. Mr. Baltzell failed in these duties on the date of the incident, which had a contributing factor in the incident and subsequent fatalities.”
He is charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter. His attorney in the federal case did not immediately respond to Law&Crime.
Lanham is accused of failing to close up the business amid the thunderstorm. He is charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter.
“Mr. Lanham failed to cease operation of the Ride the Ducks as severe weather approached, which included lightning, heavy rain and high winds,” documents said. “These actions had a contributing factor in the incident and subsequent fatalities.”
Tricia Bath, an attorney in Lanham’s federal case, confirmed to Law&Crime that she and Thomas Bath are representing the client against the new state charges.
“What happened on July 19, 2018, was a horrible tragedy that resulted from a storm that struck with a ferocity that was not typical and not anticipated,” she wrote in a statement. “As has been the case since Curtis was initially charged in Federal Court, we are confident that he committed no crime.”
Note: We added a statement from Tricia Bath.
[Screengrab via CBS Evening News]
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