INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana woman whose husband and three children died when a duck boat sank last month in Branson said Tuesday she hopes to save lives by backing an effort to ban the amphibious tourist boats.
Tia Coleman, speaking through tears during a news conference in her Indianapolis home, urged people to sign an online petition calling on federal officials to ban the boats.
Seventeen people died when the boat sank during a July 19 storm at Table Rock Lake near Branson, including 40-year-old Glenn Coleman, 9-year-old Reece, 7-year-old Evan and 1-year-old Arya. Five other Coleman relatives also died.
Family photos dotted the walls of the living room where she spoke, describing the silence she awakes to every day. The children’s rooms still the way they were before the family vacation to Branson. Arya’s playpen filled with stuffed animals and toys is still in the living room.
“I never want another family to have to go through this, I never do,” Tia Coleman said. “It’s a house, now. It’s not a home anymore. … I’m trying to get used to an empty house.”
Two lawsuits have been filed on behalf of other Coleman relatives, but Tia Coleman is not yet a plaintiff. A lawsuit on her behalf is expected to be filed eventually.
Both lawsuits name Ripley Entertainment Inc., Ride the Ducks International, Ride the Ducks of Branson, the Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., and Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing. They allege that the owners and operators of the Ride the Ducks boat put profits over people’s safety when they decided to put the boat on a lake despite severe weather warnings and design problems.
Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts has said the company remains “deeply saddened” by the accident but would not comment specifically on the lawsuits because a National Transportation Safety Board investigation is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached. She had no immediate comment Tuesday on Coleman’s petition.
Yelena Brackney, Coleman’s sister, sat beside her on a couch during the new conference. She said that in addition to the petition, the family supports legislation introduced last month by Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri that would require duck boats to be better equipped to stay afloat or that canopies are removed to allow passengers to escape. McCaskill’s legislation would enshrine recommendations made by federal regulators after another duck boat sank in Arkansas in 1999, killing 13 people.
After the 1999 incident, the NTSB recommended that duck boats, which are designed to operate on land and water, should be upgraded to ensure they remain upright and floating in bad weather.