Kenneth Scott McKee is facing 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship’s officer resulting in death.
The July accident occurred when the popular tourist attraction – nicknamed a “duck boat” for its ability to operate on land and water – sank in a lake near the town of Branson after a severe storm rolled into the area.
McKee, 51, is accused of not properly assessing the weather before or after the boat went on the lake. The U.S. Coast Guard found probable cause that the accident “resulted from the misconduct, negligence, or inattention to the duties” by McKee, according to an August court filing.
A total of 17 people, including children, died after the boat capsized, including nine members of Tia Coleman’s family who were vacationing from Indiana.
As she recovered from the accident, Coleman claimed the captain told the passengers not to bother wearing life jackets.
“The captain had told us, ‘Don’t worry about grabbing the life jackets, you won’t need them,'” Coleman recalled of his alleged message.
“When the captain took over, I thought that at some point he would say grab the jackets now. But we were told to stay seated, and everybody stayed seated. Nobody grabbed it."
Video and audio from the boat, recovered by divers, showed that the lake was calm when the boat entered the water. But the weather suddenly turned violent and, within minutes, the boat sank.
The wind speed at the time of the accident was more than 70 mph, just short of hurricane force, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Weather forecasts had warned of an impending storm with winds possibly exceeding 60 mph.
Ripley Entertainment, the company that operated the boats, suspended operations following the accident.
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