Kenneth Scott McKee, 51, of Verona, Missouri, was charged in a 17-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Missouri. McKee was the captain of Stretch Duck 7, operated by Ripley Entertainment, Inc. The indictment charges McKee with misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship’s officer, resulting in the death of another person. McKee is charged with one count for each of the 17 passengers (including one crew member) who died when Stretch Duck 7 sank on July 19, 2018.
The indictment alleges that McKee committed a number of acts of misconduct, negligence and inattention to his duties while piloting Stretch Duck 7 both before and during severe weather conditions. He allegedly failed to properly assess incoming weather prior to entering the vessel on the water. At the time McKee drove the vessel into the water, according to the indictment, there was lightning in the area and severe weather approaching. The indictment also alleges that McKee failed to properly assess the nature of the severe weather while the vessel was on the water.
McKee allegedly operated Stretch Duck 7 in violation of the conditions and limitations specified in the vessels’ certificate of inspection. When severe weather (including increased wind speed) arrived at the vessel’s location, the indictment says, McKee failed to instruct passengers to don personal flotation devices. He allegedly also failed to immediately increase speed and head to the nearest shore. He allegedly caused or allowed the vessel’s plastic side curtains to be lowered, which created a barrier over the vessel’s exits in the event of a need to abandon ship.
The first time the vessel’s bilge alarm sounded, the indictment says, McKee failed to raise the side curtains, failed to instruct passengers to don personal flotation devices and failed to prepare to abandon ship. The second time the vessel’s bilge alarm sounded, the indictment says, McKee again failed to raise the side curtains, failed to instruct passengers to don personal flotation devices and failed to prepare to abandon ship. McKee allegedly failed to prepare to abandon ship when there was an unacceptable loss of freeboard on the vessel as well.
The indictment alleges that these acts of misconduct, negligence, and inattention to duty separately and collectively caused the lives of 17 persons on board Stretch Duck 7 to be lost. Under federal statutes, a conviction is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole on each count of conviction, plus a fine of $250,000.
The charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.