Two more employees charged in Missouri duck boat deaths
MISSOURI — Two more people have been indicted by a federal grand jury in the capsizing of a duck boat on a Missouri lake that killed 17 people last year, according to a statement from the Missouri US Attorney’s Office.
Curtis Lanham and Charles Baltzell — employees of Ripley Entertainment Inc., the parent company for Ride the Ducks Branson — were charged in a 47-count indictment that was made public Thursday.
A Ride the Ducks Branson boat sank July 19 on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, a popular family vacation destination. Severe thunderstorms made conditions hazardous on the water. Seventeen people, aged 1 to 76, drowned, including nine members of one family and one crew member.
The charges allege that the men aided and abetted the misconduct of another employee, boat captain Kenneth Scott McKee, who was charged in November, according to the statement.
Lanham, the general manager, and Baltzell, the operations supervisor who acted as dispatcher during the tours, were both charged with 17 felony counts — one for each person who died.
McKee was accused of putting the boat onto the lake even though there was severe weather, operating the duck boat in violation of its limitations and not instructing passengers to put on life jackets.
Lanham, the statement said, is accused of not establishing proper weather monitoring training requirements and creating a dangerous work environment, which included neglecting adequate staffing and overworking those responsible for monitoring weather during tours.
“Lanham created a work atmosphere on Stretch Duck 7 and other duck boats where the concern for profit overshadowed the concern for safety,” according to the statement.
Baltzell is accused of not properly monitoring the weather and instructing McKee to enter the water even as severe weather and lightning approached the area.
“The indictment alleges that these acts of misconduct, negligence, and inattention to duty by McKee and Baltzell separately and collectively caused the lives of 17 persons on board Stretch Duck 7 to be lost,” the US Attorney’s Office said.
No duck boats in 2019
Relatives of those who died have also filed wrongful-death lawsuits against the companies that operated the boat.
Ripley Entertainment announced in March that “due to ongoing investigations,” the duck boat service would not operate in 2019.
Instead, the company intends to launch “a patriotic-themed experience offering an interactive outdoor maze, indoor laser tag and other adventures,” Suzanne Smagala-Potts, spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, said in a statement in March.
Ten percent of the company’s proceeds in 2019, with a minimum of $100,000, will be donated to the local police and fire departments and emergency medical services, the statement said.