Two more charged in deadly Missouri duck boat sinking

Image: KY3 News (file)
Image: KY3 News (file)

Two more employees of Ripley Entertainment, the company that operated duck boat rides in Branson, Missouri, along with the captain of the duck boat that sank at Table Rock Lake last summer, resulting in the deaths of 17 people, have been indicted by a federal grand jury, the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri said in a press release.

Curtis P. Lanham, 36, of Galena, Missouri, and Charles V. Baltzell, 76, of Kirbyville, Missouri, were charged in a 47-count superseding indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield on June 13.

The superseding indictment, which was unsealed and made public on June 20 following the initial court appearances of Lanham and Baltzell, contains the original charges against vessel captain Kenneth Scott McKee, 51, of Verona, Missouri. It replaces the federal indictment returned on November 8, 2018, and includes additional charges and defendants.

Ripley Entertainment, an Orlando, Florida, corporation, owned, operated, and conducted business as Ride the Ducks Branson from December 1, 2017, to July 20, 2018.

The company managed and operated duck boat tours in Taney and Stone counties, and was the owner and operator of the duck boat Stretch Duck 7.

Lanham was employed by Ripley as the general manager at Ride the Ducks Branson. He was responsible for the overall day-to-day management of the operations and duck boats, including Stretch Duck 7.

Lanham’s duties also included setting policies and procedures for the operations and overseeing the training of employees. As general manager, he held managerial authority over the entire staff of Ride the Ducks Branson and reported directly to Ripley’s president.

Baltzell was employed by Ripley as the operations supervisor at Ride the Ducks Branson and was acting as a manager on duty. He was responsible for ensuring the duck boat tours ran in sequence and acted as a despatcher through the use of radio and other communications methods while the duck boat tours were ongoing.

Baltzell’s duties also included monitoring the weather and communicating with ongoing duck boat tours regarding the weather.

A detailed account of the fatal events that occurred on July 19, 2018, is contained in the indictment.

The superseding indictment contains the original charges against McKee of misconduct and negligence by a vessel captain, resulting in the death of another person. Baltzell is added to each of those felony counts–one count for each of the 16 passengers and one crew member who died when Stretch Duck 7 sank–as an aider and abettor of misconduct and neglect by a vessel captain.

Lanham is charged with 17 felony counts of misconduct and neglect by an executive officer of the corporate charterer/owner–one count for each of the 16 passengers and one crew member who died in the accident.

The indictment includes an alternative theory of liability in relation to Lanham’s status, which alleges that he aided and abetted McKee’s misconduct, negligence, and inattention to duty.

McKee, Baltzell, and Lanham also are charged in 13 misdemeanor counts–one count for each of the 13 passengers who survived the sinking–with operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner that wantonly and recklessly disregarded and endangered the life, limb, and property of persons on board Stretch Duck 7; or with aiding and abetting the operation of a vessel in such a grossly negligent manner.

According to the indictment, Baltzell directed and allowed McKee to operate Stretch Duck 7 in violation of the conditions and limitations specified in the vessel’s US Coast Guard-issued certificate of inspection, and failed to adequately supervise the operation of the tour of Stretch Duck 7 on July 19, 2018.

Also according to the indictment, while actually charged with the control and management of the operation, equipment, and navigation of Stretch Duck 7, and while acting as an executive officer of Ripley Entertainment, Lanham knowingly and willfully caused and allowed McKee, Baltzell, and others to engage in neglect, misconduct, and violation of law.

The indictment also alleges that Lanham created a work atmosphere on Stretch Duck 7 and other duck boats where the concern for profit overshadowed the concern for safety.

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