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Two more Ride the Ducks employees charged in deadly capsizing

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Posted at 5:31 PM, Jun 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-20 19:39:58-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two more employees of the company that operated the duck boat that capsized last summer in Branson, Missouri, killing 17 people, were indicted last week by a federal grand jury.

Curtis Lanham, 36, the general manager of Ride the Ducks Branson, and Charles Baltzell, 76, the operations supervisor, each were charged in connection with the sinking of Stretch Duck 7 on Table Rock Lake, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri said Thursday in a news release.

Lanham, who was responsible for day-to-day management of operations and duck boats, faces 17 charges of misconduct and neglect by an executive officer of the corporate charterer/owner — one count for each of the 17 passengers who died when the boat capsized on July 19, 2018.

Investigation continues after duck boat capsizes

According to the indictment, he created an atmosphere “where the concern for profit overshadowed the concern for safety,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

As operations supervisor, Baltzell was acting as the manager on duty when the incident occurred, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. His duties also included monitoring the weather and communicating with ongoing boat tours about the weather. He faces 17 counts of aiding and abetting misconduct and neglect by a vessel captain.

Lanham, Baltzell, and the boat's captain, Kenneth McKee, also face 13 misdemeanor counts of operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner, one count for each of the 13 passengers who survived the sinking.

McKee initially was charged in connection with the wreck in November 2018 following a federal criminal investigation. He also faces 17 felony charges of misconduct and negligence by a vessel captain resulting in the death of another person.

The indictment alleges McKee failed to assess incoming severe weather before going on the water and when the boat was in operation. He also failed to tell passengers to put on flotation devices when the severe weather arrived, according to the indictment.

“We continue to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other agencies as they investigate the facts surrounding the unprecedented storm and resulting accident on Table Rock Lake that occurred last July,” Public Relations Manager for Ripley Entertainment Suzanne Smagala-Potts said.

Ripley’s statement included a plea that “all persons charged are entitled to a strong presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Smagala-Potts said. “We have and will continue to offer support for all of our employees as this process moves forward.”

Ripley Entertainment, which owned and operated the duck boat tours, announced in March that the company would not operate the vessels this year. The company faces several lawsuits in connection with the sinking.

“From the day of the accident, the company has worked with victims and those most impacted to do as much as possible to help them,” Smagala-Potts said. “We have reached court-approved settlements with several families of the victims and are actively pursuing mediated resolutions with all others who were affected by the accident. Out of respect for the privacy of the families, we are not discussing settlement details.”

Ripley Entertainment opened a sprawling laser-tag complex in the former Ride the Ducks space and is donating 10% of admissions proceeds in 2019 to local first responders, with a minimum of $100,000.