Decision on trial in duck boat tragedy delayed until 2022

GALENA, Mo. (AP) — Three men who were charged after a tourist boat sank in Missouri, killing 17 people, will find out next year whether they will face a criminal trial, a judge said Thursday.

At the conclusion of a two-day preliminary hearing, Associate Circuit Judge Alan Mark Blankenship gave prosecutors until the end of the year to respond to defense attorneys’ request that the case against the three men be dismissed. The judge said he will set a court date next year to announce his decision on whether the case will to to trial.

The men were charged after an amphibious boat sank on Table Rock Lake near Branson on July 19, 2018, in the midst of a storm.

Kenneth Scott McKee, 54, the captain of the vessel known as a duck boat; Curtis P. Lanham, 39, the general manager at Ride the Ducks in Branson; and Charles V. Baltzell, 79, the operations supervisor who was a manager on duty the night the boat sank, are each charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter.

McKee also faces 12 counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child because 12 children were on the amphibious boat when it capsized. Riders from Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and Arkansas were killed. Fourteen people survived.

When charges were filed in July, an affidavit from an investigator accused McKee of taking the boat onto the lake despite concerns about an approaching storm. Lanham and Baltzell are accused of failing to communicate weather conditions and to stop operations after a severe thunderstorm warning was issued.

During the preliminary hearing, attorneys for the defendants said the men were not aware that a thunderstorm warning had been issued and a meteorologist at a nearby TV station was urging people to leave the lake immediately, The Kansas City Star reported.

Testimony showed the employees at Ride the Ducks, which operated the popular tourist attraction, typically checked only a radar from Earth Networks, a private meteorological company, for weather conditions. The radar showed rain, not wind, was expected that day at the lake.

The boat was swamped by waves caused by strong winds shortly after it entered the lake.

On Wednesday, a manager at a nearby marina who testified for the state, said he always checked about a dozen weather apps on his phone before sending out boats. He said he was not surprised by the storm and the wind gusts that preceded it that day, calling the storm that sank the boat “predictable.”

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