KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The captain of a tourist boat that sank in Table Rock Lake near Branson, killing 17 people, including an Arkansas father and son, didn't tell passengers to put on flotation devices or prepare them to abandon ship even after waves crashed into the boat during a severe storm, according to an indictment released Thursday.
The federal indictment shows Kenneth Scott McKee faces 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship's officer resulting in death. The deaths occurred when the duck boat, a refurbished amphibious vessel originally used by the military during World War II, sank during a storm in July.
U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said the 51-year-old McKee also is accused of failing to properly assess the weather before and after the boat went into the lake near Branson, a tourist destination 11 miles north of the Arkansas state line.
"This is the beginning, not the end, of our efforts in this matter," Garrison said during a news conference in Springfield, Mo., adding that he couldn't release specifics about the investigation.
Ripley Entertainment, the company that operated the boats and suspended the operation after the accident, didn't respond to messages from The Associated Press. McKee's attorney declined to comment.
If convicted, McKee could face up to 10 years in prison for each count and a fine of $250,000.
Tia Coleman -- whose husband, three young children and five other family members died in the sinking -- released a statement Thursday saying she was pleased that an indictment had been filed. Coleman was among 14 survivors.
"While nothing can ever ease the grief in my heart, I am grateful that the U.S. Attorney's Office is fighting for justice for my family, and the other victims, and is committed to holding fully accountable all those responsible for this tragedy," Coleman said.
Steve Smith, 53, and his 15-year-old son, Lance, both of Osceola, were among the 17 people who died when the tour boat sank.
Smith's wife, Pam, called his cellphone while the boat was taking on water.
"He said, 'It doesn't look good,'" his mother, Lorene Smith, said in July. "He told her [his wife] he loved her and he loved the kids. She said 'I love you.' And that was it. The phone went dead. But they got to say goodbye."
Steve Smith's daughter, Loren, 14, was among the 14 survivors. Loren helped rescue another child, said her grandmother.
Nobody in the Smith family could be reached for comment Thursday.
Steve Smith was born in Conway and moved to Osceola in 1966, when he was 2 years old. His father, Carroll Smith, was a teacher who later became superintendent. Carroll Smith Elementary School in Osceola was named for him.
Steve Smith was a deacon in the Osceola Church of Christ. He was retired from teaching math at North Elementary School. Pam Smith also works for the Osceola School District.
The other people killed included two couples from Missouri, an Illinois woman who died while saving her granddaughter's life, and a retired pastor who was the boat's operator on land.
Several families, including the Smiths, filed lawsuits on behalf of victims and survivors against Ripley Entertainment and other companies involved with the manufacture and operation of the boats. Robert Mongeluzzi, an attorney representing Coleman and several others, said he's confident that the federal investigation will go beyond McKee.
A spokesman for Ripley Entertainment has repeatedly declined to comment on the investigation but has said the company has cooperated with authorities.
Information for this article was contributed by Jim Salter of The Associated Press, and Bill Bowden of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Metro on 11/09/2018
Print Headline: Duck boat captain indicted in July sinking; Arkansas father, son among 17 victims