BRANSON, Mo. (KY3) - A federal magistrate judge has recommended the dismissal of criminal charges against three men indicted in connection to a fatal duck boat accident near Branson two years ago.
On July 19, 2018, a Ride the Ducks boat on Table Rock Lake capsized during a storm, sinking and killing 17 people on board.
Sixteen passengers, including nine from the same family and one crew member driving the boat, drowned that night, which resulted in one of the deadliest boating accidents in United States history.
A 47-count indictment, unsealed in June 2019, accused the general manager of the boat’s operator, Ride the Ducks Branson, and the manager on duty with a variety of neglect and misconduct charges. An earlier indictment charged the boat’s captain, Kenneth Scott McKee, with failure to properly assess incoming weather before launching.
According to court records released Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Rush recommended the dismissal of charges since Table Rock Lake is not considered a navigable waterway under admiralty law.
A document released Friday argues that the case should be handled at the state level, rather than the federal level. It argues federal courts have limited jurisdiction and general police powers over crimes belong to the state.
Further proceedings now head to a district judge, who can accept or reject the federal judge’s recommendation in whole or in part. Parties may submit suggestions to the district judge in support or in opposition to the recommendation before a ruling on the motion.
In April 2020, The National Transportation Safety Board released findings of its investigation into the sinking of the Ride the Ducks vessel, highlighting that warnings were ignored and rules were not in place despite past recommendations.
Investigators say Ride the Ducks had plenty of warning about the severe weather on the night the boat capsized, but it still launched more than 20 minutes after a thunderstorm warning was issued for Table Rock Lake.
Ride The Ducks has not operated in Branson since the tragedy two years ago.