GALENA, Mo. — A judge decided to dismiss the charges against three people who were charged after the deadly sinking of a Duck Boat in 2018 on Tuesday.

The three people were operators of a duck boat that sank in stormy weather on Table Rock Lake. Kenneth Scott McKee, Curtis Lanham, and Charles Baltzell were facing several felony counts over the duck boat tragedy.

Tia Coleman, a survivor of the “Ride the Ducks” boat accident was in the courtroom Tuesday. She lost nine family members on the boat where she and her family were enjoying a day in Branson.

Tia Coleman in the courtroom on April 5th

Judge Alan Blankenship dismissed all charges for each individual, citing a lack of evidence that the operators knowingly risked the lives of the passengers.

“Criminal cases are a little different than civil,” said Blankenship. “Here, we are defined, guided by statute. Statutes define the crimes. After reviewing all of the evidence, I do not feel the evidence supports those levels of criminal contempt as defined by statutes. Accordingly, each case is hereby dismissed without prejudice” 

Both definitions of “reckless” and “knowingly” require the defendants to have knowledge of the risk. This was the issue in this case. The risk was the effect of high winds on boat operations and passenger safety. According to court documents, the judge decided there is no evidence that the defendants were aware of high winds in advance of the storm.

Before dismissing the case, Blankenship explained why captain Kenneth Scott McKee’s decision to not tell passengers to put on Protective Flotation Devices (PFD) was not held against him in court.

“The National Transportation Safety Board in their report even mentioned that had those (PFD) been utilized in this case, under these circumstances, it may have resulted in more loss of life, not less,” said Blankenship.

The judge stated whether they could or should have known about the high winds by relying on other sources of weather information was not relevant to the charges.

Judge Blankenship released the following statement:

“This court feels great sadness for this needless loss of life and the impact on the victims’ family and friends. However, because the court does not find sufficient evidence to support the men’s rea or intent required for the charges at issue, as defined by Missouri law, the court dismisses each count against each defendant. The case is dismissed without prejudice.”

J.R. Hobbs, the council for Kenneth Scott McKee, chose not to make a statement about the outcome out of respect to the people impacted by the duck boat tragedy.

“On behalf of all involved, we respect the court’s decision it was a terrible tragedy for everyone affected and under these circumstances, we don’t believe any further comment is appropriate,” Hobbs said. 

Stone County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Selby said the Prosecutor’s Office is disappointed with the outcome of Tuesday’s proceedings. Selby said the office is looking at its options and will make a decision in the next few days about how to move forward.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt responded to the court ruling saying the office did not agree with the decision.

“17 people, including children, were tragically killed on Tablerock Lake in 2018 – our hearts continue to go out to their families and loved ones. Our Office has worked to prosecute this case and the alleged offenders to the best of our ability. We’re disappointed in the Court’s decision, but we’re not giving up in our pursuit of justice on behalf of the 17 victims and their families. Our Office hopes to refile charges and continue this case, and will confer with the local prosecutor to that end in the coming days.”

Attorney General’s Office