Garrison said the charges are colloquially known as “seaman’s manslaughter” and that McKee’s indictment was the “first” related to the duck boat tragedy.
It’s unclear whether more indictments are coming against other people.
“This indictment represents the beginning, not the end of our efforts,” said Garrison. He declined to comment on other possible indictments, citing ethics rules.
The allegations against McKee are that he failed to properly assess incoming weather that July evening and then missed opportunities to either help passengers escape or get the boat back to shore safely.
Prosecutors say there was lightning in the area of Table Rock Lake when McKee drove the duck boat into the water.
During the fatal voyage, prosecutors say McKee failed to tell passengers to put on their personal flotation devices and also failed to raise the boat’s side curtains as it took on water. Attorneys have alleged the side curtains, in addition to the boat’s canopy trapped passengers inside the vessel as it sank.
If convicted, McKee could face 10 years in prison on each of the 17 counts, prosecutors say.
Garrison said Thursday that McKee was not in custody but he would be surrendering soon. Garrison declined to say whether McKee cooperated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s investigation.
Tia Coleman of Indianapolis, Indiana, speaks to members of the press in Branson about the duck boat incident that killed nine of her relatives, including her husband and three children. Nikki Boliaux, USA Today
McKee’s attorney, J.R. Hobbs, said Thursday that he expected McKee to make his first court appearance next week and plead not guilty. Hobbs declined to comment further on the allegations.
Ripley Entertainment, which operates the Branson Ride the Ducks operation, in addition to Ride the Ducks International also have been sued by many duck boat survivors and family members of the deceased.
Those lawsuits are making their way through the court system. The U.S. Attorney’s Office had asked to delay some proceedings in the lawsuits as they continued their criminal investigation.
In the lawsuits, attorneys claim the duck boat operators were negligent in ignoring weather warnings and not heeding calls to change the design of the boats after a similar tragedy in 1999 in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Branson is among several places around the country where the amphibious vehicles offer excursions. Since 1999, 42 deaths have been associated with duck boat accidents .
In August, the U.S. Coast Guard found probable cause to believe the captain committed “misconduct, negligence or inattention to duties.”