Federal prosecutors filed court documents yesterday in Kansas City that cite two Duck Boat captains as targets in a criminal investigation of a deadly mishap.
The documents say that the incident in which 17 people died “resulted from the misconduct, negligence, or inattention to the duties’ by the captain of the boat”.
Kenneth Scott McKee, who helmed the sunken Stretch Duck 07, and Barry King, captain of Stretch Duck 54 that made it back to shore, are “targets” in the investigation. The court documents say King acted in a “grossly negligent manner.” Both of their Duck Boats were battling four-foot swells during hurricane force winds July 19th on Table Rock Lake in Branson.
The court filing seeks an order to delay any discovery in lawsuits connected to the tragedy until the criminal investigation is over. It further seeks to prevent attorneys in those suits from sharing information and evidence they’ve gathered, stating that such activity could harm the criminal case.
The Coast Guard referred the investigation to federal prosecutors on Aug. 13. No criminal charges have been filed.
At least four lawsuits have been filed, three in federal court in Kansas City. Two of those are from members of the Coleman family of Indianapolis, which lost nine relatives in the mishap. One of them seeking $100 million in damages.
A third federal case was filed by the daughter of 69-year-old William Asher from the St. Louis area, who died in last month’s tragedy. The fourth is from three daughters of William and Janice Bright from western Missouri’s Higginsville.
That lawsuit alleges Stretch Duck 07 which sank, entered the water nearly 20 minutes after a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for Table Rock Lake. The lead attorney in that case, Gerald McGonagle, says the captain rushed the boat into the lake.
“The captain of the Duck Boat tour cut the land portion short and went into the water to try to beat the storm,” said McGonagle. “That’s very, very troubling and grossly negligent.”
Video accounts of the incident showed the lake was calm when the boats went into the water but severe winds up to 70 mph began blowing suddenly.
McGonagle’s observation closely mirrors statements in the court documents filed Wednesday. U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison argued in the filing that much of the same evidence, documents and witnesses will be part of the criminal investigation and lawsuits.
Springfield based defense attorney Adam Woody told Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV Wednesday that court efforts to freeze the lawsuits are intended to allow federal investigators to operate without interference.
“They are just wanting to ensure that their witnesses or officers or investigating agencies are the first to question these witnesses, to get these witnesses statements under oath, and to ensure that they are reliable and consistent throughout the investigation,” said Woody.
Ripley Entertainment, the owner and operator of Ride the Ducks Branson, is named as a possible “target” or “subject” in the federal court document. Ripley is also a defendant in all the civil lawsuit. Woody thinks Ripley will attempt to use the possible federal intervention to try and shut down the litigation.
“Obviously the defense in the civil case is going to want this evidence as soon as possible. And if the government tries to stay the case, I would expect the defense to try and have the cases dismissed by the court.”
Woody thinks the whole process could last for years. Ripley Entertainment has declined multiple times to comment on the ongoing investigation, except to say it’ s cooperating with authorities.
Meanwhile, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office is also examining whether any state laws were violated during the deadly Duck Boat Incident. Hawley’s office is looking for breaches of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act which forbids fraud and deception in the sale of goods and services.
Missourinet media partner KOLR contributed to this report