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State will temporarily stay proceedings in duck boat case

Posted at 7:14 AM, May 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-17 08:14:30-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — State proceedings against the owner of a duck boat that sank on a Missouri lake last summer, killing 17 people, will be temporarily halted until federal charges in the case are resolved, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Thursday.

Schmitt said in a news release he and officials of Branson Duck Vehicles signed an agreement Tuesday for a temporary stay of proceedings pending resolution of any charges by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District and other federal agencies "and any additional criminal charges that may be forthcoming."

The amphibious vehicle sank July 19, 2018, at Table Rock Lake near Branson after it entered the lake despite severe weather warnings. Fourteen people survived.

Ripley Entertainment, which owns Branson Duck Vehicles, has said it doesn't plan to operate the duck boats this year. A spokeswoman for the company didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Schmitt said the agreement requires the company to give the state a 90-day notice if it intends to operate the boats after this year. If that happens, the state's proceedings would resume, he said.

"The most important thing to me, was to get these duck boats off Missouri waters prior to the upcoming tourist season, ensuring that Missourians and tourists would not be put in harms' way" Schmitt said. "And, in the future, the operators need to provide significant warning to the State if they intend to even attempt to get back on the water. If that is the case, we will stop them."

Schmitt's office has continued to pursue a lawsuit filed by former Attorney General Josh Hawley, which accused Branson Duck Vehicles and Ripley Entertainment of violating Missouri's consumer protection law and putting profits above safety. The suit seeks financial penalties and asks a judge to ban operation of the amphibious vehicle tours.

The refurbished amphibious duck boats were a staple of tourism in Branson for nearly 50 years, with Ripley purchasing the attraction in 2017. The boats start out on land and then entered the water for a brief tour around the lake.

Orlando, Florida-based Ripley faces several lawsuits alleging that warnings of severe weather were ignored when boat, known as Stretch Duck 07, went onto the lake last July.

The boat's captain, Kenneth Scott McKee, has been indicted on 17 counts accusing him of several violations of federal law overseeing boat captains, including not properly assessing incoming weather, failing to tell passengers to use flotation devices and other violations. The federal investigation is ongoing.