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2018 Year In Review: 5. Ride the Ducks accident kills 17, prompts lawsuits

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BRANSON, JULY 19—On a stormy summer night, an amphibious vessel operated by Ride the Ducks Branson capsized, killing 17 people on board as it traversed Table Rock Lake.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol cited “high winds in a thunderstorm, causing the vessel to swamp and then sink.” The victims included a Ride the Ducks crew member and nine members of a single Indiana family.

Owned by Ripley Entertainment Inc., Ride the Ducks Branson has not reopened since the incident July 19.

Multiple lawsuits have since been filed, including those from family members. Most recently, Tim Garrison, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, in November indicted the vessel’s captain on 17 counts of misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty.

The indictment from Garrison’s office, which did not name Ripley Entertainment or Ride the Ducks Branson as defendants, alleges Kenneth McKee, 51, of Verona, caused the 17 deaths by piloting the duck boat known as Stretch Duck 7 despite knowing severe weather was on its way. Under federal statutes, McKee could receive up to 10 years in federal prison without parole and a fine of $250,000 on each count of conviction.

The indictment followed a National Transportation Safety Board review of the digital video recorder system on the Ride the Ducks vessel that found crews knew a storm was headed toward Table Rock Lake.

In a July lawsuit filed on behalf of the Indiana family, attorneys with Philadelphia-based Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky PC held a news conference in Kansas City, during which lawyer Robert Mongeluzzi called the vessel a “death trap.”

The lawsuit sought at least $100 million in damages.

Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky previously secured a $17 million settlement following a 2010 duck boat crash in Philadelphia. Further, the suit called for an end to the duck boat industry in its current form.

More than a dozen suits against Ripley Entertainment in the Western District of Missouri are under review in court proceedings.

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