During a seven-minute hearing, Judge David Rush released McKee on an appearance bond. The government did not ask for McKee to be held while awaiting trial.
The following information was included in a news release issued November 8 by the U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri:
McKee was charged in a 17-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield. McKee was the captain of Stretch Duck 7, operated by Ripley Entertainment, Inc. The company operated duck boat tours in Branson, Mo., and on Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo.
The indictment charged McKee with misconduct, negligence, or inattention to duty by a ship’s officer, resulting in the death of another person. McKee is charged with one count for each of the 17 passengers (including one crew member) who died when Stretch Duck 7 sank/\.
The indictment alleges McKee committed a number of acts of misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties while piloting Stretch Duck 7 both before and during severe weather conditions.
McKee allegedly failed to properly assess incoming weather prior to entering the vessel on the water. At the time McKee drove the vessel into the water, according to the indictment, there was lightning in the area and severe weather approaching. The indictment also alleges that McKee failed to properly assess the nature of the severe weather while the vessel was on the water.
McKee allegedly operated Stretch Duck 7 in violation of the conditions and limitations specified in the vessels’ certificate of inspection. When severe weather (including increased wind speed) arrived at the vessel’s location, the indictment says, McKee failed to instruct passengers to don personal flotation devices. He allegedly also failed to immediately increase speed and head to the nearest shore. He allegedly caused or allowed the vessel’s plastic side curtains to be lowered, which created a barrier over the vessel’s exits in the event of a need to abandon ship.
The first time the vessel’s bilge alarm sounded, the indictment says, McKee failed to raise the side curtains, failed to instruct passengers to don personal flotation devices, and failed to prepare to abandon ship. The second time the vessel’s bilge alarm sounded, the indictment says, McKee again failed to raise the side curtains, failed to instruct passengers to don personal flotation devices, and failed to prepare to abandon ship. McKee allegedly failed to prepare to abandon ship when there was an unacceptable loss of freeboard on the vessel as well. (Freeboard refers to distance from the waterline to the upper deck level; a loss of freeboard is when waves are overtopping the freeboard, thus causing the ship to fill with water.)
The indictment alleges that these acts of misconduct, negligence, and inattention to duty separately and collectively caused the lives of 17 persons on board Stretch Duck 7 to be lost.
Under federal statutes, a conviction for this offense is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole on each count of conviction, plus a fine of $250,000. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of any convicted defendant is determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.