Three men charged after a tourist boat sank in Missouri during a 2018 storm, killing 17 people, were in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing to determine if the criminal case against them will proceed.
Kenneth Scott McKee, 54, the captain of the vessel known as a duck boat; Curtis P. Lanham, 39, the general manager at Ride the Ducks in Branson; and Charles V. Baltzell, 79, the operations supervisor who was a manager on duty the night the boat sank, are each charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter.
McKee also faces 12 charges counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child because 12 children were on the amphibious boat when it capsized on Table Rock Lake near Branson on July 19, 2018. Riders from Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and Arkansas were killed, including nine members of an Indianapolis family. Fourteen people survived.
Associate Circuit County Judge Alan Mark Blankenship will hear testimony in Stone County Court and determine if the cases will be bound over for trial.
When charges were filed in July, an affidavit from a Missouri Highway Patrol sergeant accused McKee of taking the duck boat onto the lake despite concern about an approaching storm. Lanham and Baltzell are accused of failing to communicate weather conditions and to stop operations after a severe thunderstorm warning was issued.
The three men each pleaded not guilty in September.
On Tuesday, McKee, of Verona, filed a motion to dismiss his charges, citing a lack of probable cause. He also accused Lanham, of Galena, and Baltzell, of Kirbyville, of not communicating the danger of the oncoming storm and halting the tour, The Kansas City Star reported.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and the Stone County prosecutor filed the state charges after a judge dismissed federal charges, ruling that the federal government did not have jurisdiction because Table Rock Lake is not considered a navigable waterway, which means it doesn’t support commerce.
The tour boats — a popular attraction on Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo — have not been operating in Branson since the sinking.
Ride the Ducks and Ripley Entertainment, a Canadian company that owned the Ride the Ducks attraction in Branson at the time, have settled numerous lawsuits filed by survivors and relatives of those who died.