A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted the captain of a duck boat that sank in July during a violent thunderstorm on a Missouri lake, killing 17 passengers, including nine from the same family.
The captain, Kenneth Scott McKee, 51, faces 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship’s officer resulting in death.
The indictment accused Mr. McKee of failing to adequately assess the weather conditions before the duck boat set off on a tour of Table Rock Lake in southwestern Missouri, near the tourist town of Branson. It also said that he did not immediately head for the shore once severe weather approached and that he neglected to tell passengers to put on their life vests.
“Today’s indictment alleges that the misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty by the ship’s captain caused or contributed to the loss of those lives,” Timothy Garrison, United States attorney for western Missouri, said at a news conference.
Mr. McKee’s lawyer, James R. Hobbs, said Thursday that his client would soon turn himself in.
“We received the indictment and anticipate that a not-guilty plea will soon be entered and are working with court and counsel for a self surrender and bond hearing,” Mr. Hobbs said.
The July 19 accident was one of the deadliest involving a duck boat — modeled after the amphibious trucks used in World War II to move along land and water — in United States history.
When the duck boat entered the lake, the waters were calm, but there had been numerous warnings of an approaching storm. Wind speeds picked up suddenly, increasing to more than 70 miles an hour. Fierce waves buffeted the boat, which took on water. Within minutes, the vessel had sunk. Fourteen people survived, including Mr. McKee.
The vehicles have had several fatal accidents on both water and land, including in May 1999, when 13 people were killed when a duck boat sank in Hot Springs, Ark.
After that accident, a National Transportation Safety Board report made several nonbinding recommendations, asking operators to add flotation equipment and equip the vehicles with sufficient pumping power to keep them afloat when they begin to take on too much water. The Coast Guard and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are responsible for regulating the crafts because they run on land and in water.
Ripley Entertainment, the company that operated the boats in Missouri, suspended operations on the lake after the accident. The company did not respond to a request seeking comment on Thursday.
The accident killed nine members of the Coleman family, who had traveled from Indianapolis for their annual vacation. Two family members on the boat survived. The Colemans and other victims’ relatives have filed lawsuits against Ripley Entertainment.
The Missouri Attorney General’s office has also filed a lawsuit against Ripley, claiming that the boat’s operators and owners had neglected to address decades of accumulated safety concerns related to the vessels.