Missouri judge recommends dropping charges against 3 in duck boat sinking that killed 17 people


A judge in Missouri has recommended that federal charges be dismissed against the three men charged in connection with the sinking of a duck boat that killed 17 people.

The boat sank on July 19, 2018, in Table Rock Lake near Branson, a popular family vacation spot. Amphibious duck boats can give passenger tours on water and on land.

Scott McKee, Curtis Lanham and Charles Baltzell were charged in a 47-count indictment that was unsealed in June 2019.

McKee was the boat’s captain in 2018. Lanham was the general manager for Ride the Ducks Branson, and Baltzell was the manager on duty the day the boat sank.

In a ruling issued Friday, US District Court of Western Missouri Chief Magistrate Judge David P. Rush recommended granting a joint motion by the defendants to dismiss the indictment for “lack of admiralty jurisdiction.”

The judge also recommended other remaining motions that are pending be “denied as moot.”

CNN has reached out to US Department of Justice attorneys for response.

One of the reasons Rush listed for dismissing the indictment was that Table Rock Lake is not considered navigable as a matter of admiralty law, according to an Eighth Circuit precedent.

Rush’s ruling said that if the three defendants are to be prosecuted, the case should be handled at the state level and not federal court.

McKee’s legal team said the sinking was caused by “an aberrant wind and rain storm known as a derecho where the wind preceded the storm front by seven to eight miles,” the legal team said in an email to CNN.

“The sinking of Stretch Duck 7 was a terrible tragedy,” Lanham’s attorney, Tom Bath, said in an email to CNN. “We believe the tragedy was caused by a once in a lifetime storm and not as a result of actions or the failure to act of Curtis or any other employees.”

Baltzell’s attorney, Justin Johnston, said he agreed with Rush’s recommendation to dismiss charges due to lack of jurisdiction.

In April, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that Ride the Ducks Branson and its parent company, Ripley Entertainment, were at fault for the sinking because managers did not relay a severe weather forecast to McKee.

Trademark and Copyright 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

FOX 2 Newsletters

Sign up for a newsletter from FOX 2 to get updates about news and weather. We offer daily headlines, breaking news, severe weather, and forecast emails.

About FOX 2 News

FOX 2 and KPLR 11 in St. Louis cover the news in Missouri and Illinois. There are over 68 hours of live news and local programming on-air each week. Our website and live video streams operate 24/7. Download our apps for alerts and follow us on social media for updates in your feed.

President Harry Truman said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” That spirit is alive and well at Fox 2. Our teamwork is on display each and every day.

Our news slogan is: “Coverage You Can Count On.” We quite frankly are too busy to worry about who gets the credit. Our main concern is serving the viewer.

We go where the stories take us. Whether it be Washington, D.C when a Belleville man opened fire during a congressional baseball game practice or to Puerto Rico where local Ameren crews restored power after more than 5 months in the dark.

Coverage You Can Count On means “Waking up your Day” with our top-rated morning show. From 4:00 am-10:00 am we are leading the way with breaking news. But our early morning crew also knows how to have some fun! Our strong commitment to the communities we serve is highlighted with our Friday neighborhood shows.

Our investigative unit consists of three reporters. Elliott Davis focuses on government waste, Chris Hayes is our investigative reporter, and Mike Colombo is our consumer reporter. They work in unison with the news department by sharing resources and ideas.

We continue to cover breaking news aggressively and relied on our seasoned journalists to make a difference with the stories we covered. The shooting of Arnold Police Officer Ryan O’Connor is just one example of that. Jasmine Huda was the only reporter who had exclusive access to the O’Connor family during his amazing rehabilitation in Colorado.

Last, but certainly not least, FOX 2 and KPLR 11 are committed to covering local politics. We host debates among candidates and have the most extensive presidential election coverage. Our commitment to politics isn’t just during an election year. We produce two political shows that air every weekend.


Latest News

More News