Missouri tourist boat captain indicted on charges of negligence, misconduct in July fatal sinking

The captain of the Second World War-style tourist 'duck boat' that sank on a Missouri lake during a storm in July, killing 17 people, was charged on Thursday with misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty in an indictment by a federal grand jury, prosecutors said.

Kenneth Scott McKee could face up to 170 years in prison after 17 passengers died

17 people died when the tourist 'duck boat' they were on sank in July. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

The captain of the Second World War-style tourist "duck boat" that sank on a Missouri lake during a storm in July, killing 17 people, was charged on Thursday with misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty in an indictment by a federal grand jury, prosecutors said.

Kenneth Scott McKee, 51, of Verona, Missouri, was charged in a 17-count indictment, one count for each of the passengers who died when the vessel sank on July 19.

McKee was captain of the vessel operated by Ripley Entertainment Inc, which ran duck boat tours in Branson, Missouri, and on nearby Lake Taneycomo and Table Rock Lake, where the incident occurred. He could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years for each of the 17 counts.

Using a barge mounted crane, a salvage crew from Fitzco Marine Group raised the duck boat from below the surface of Table Rock Lake, near Branson, Mo. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via Associated Press)

There were 31 passengers aboard the duck boat on Table Rock Lake when hurricane-strength winds churned up the water and sank the craft, causing one of the deadliest U.S. tourist tragedies in recent years.

"The captain of the vessel always has a duty to operate his vessel in a safe manner and that's why Mr. McKee is under indictment this morning," Timothy Garrison, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said at a news conference.

McKee is accused of failing to properly assess the severe weather, instruct passengers to use personal flotation devices, or head for shore and prepare to abandon ship, the indictment said.

Garrison said McKee was not yet in custody.

Tia Coleman lost 9 family members in the tourist boat sinking. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

McKee's attorney J.R. Hobbs said in an email that he was working out with his client how he should surrender to officials.

"We have received the indictment and anticipate that a not-guilty plea will be entered," Hobbs said.

In addition to a possible sentence in federal prison without parole, McKee could face a $250,000 U.S. fine.

Garrison declined to say whether other people were being investigated.

The families of four people who died have filed lawsuits against Ripley Entertainment, which operates under the name Ride the Ducks, saying it recklessly allowed the vessel out in dangerous weather.

Nine members of the same family were among the 17 killed.

Kenneth Scott McKee faces charges of misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty in connection to the incident. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via Associated Press)

The boats, modelled on the amphibious landing craft used in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944, have a checkered history involving more than three dozen fatalities on water and land, including the Table Rock Lake sinking, according to the complaint.