Family of Branson Duck Boat victims react to new charges filed in case

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The captain of the Branson Duck Boat that sank and two other employees were charged with 63 felonies Friday.

Each is charged with 17 counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter for the 17 people who died on Table Rock Lake almost three years ago.

Among the victims, a Higginsville couple, Bill and Jan Bright. Bill Bright’s sister said the charges are a longtime coming and she believes they are appropriate given the choices duck boat operators made that day.

The Brights were celebrating their 45th anniversary in Branson and made plans to go on the Duck boats. Bill’s sister Karen planned to join them after work the next day.

“Usually it was the three of us, my brother would joke because I would make sure we made had vacations together and we made those memories.”

When she went to work she remembers her boss asking for a moment of silence for the victims in Branson.

“Then I asked what happened and in that 30 seconds she took to describe what happen my world fell apart, Abbott said.

The Brights , 10 other adults and five children died when waves from a storm packing 70 mile per hour winds swamped the boat before it could make it back to shore.

An affidavit filed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol said Captain Kenneth Scott McKee failed to exercise his duties and responsibilities going on the lake with a severe thunderstorm warning and by not having people wear life vests. He also faces 12 counts of child endangerment.

Operations Supervisor Charles Baltzell  and General Manager Curtis Lanham are also charged with 17 counts of involuntary manslaughter for failing to communicate weather conditions and cease operations during a severe thunderstorm warning.

“When you see the boat going in the water and you see what the water looks like to me a picture is a lot more vivid than just the words,” Abbott said.

A civil suit accused operators of trying to beat the storm to avoid having to give refunds. Abbott said while the charges are justified, they can’t erase the duck boat tragedy.

“There’s just no bringing them back nothing we can say or do or charges or lawyers or courts nothing can make it any easier. They’re gone, it all could have been avoided but it wasn’t. We just have to go on with  life,” Abbott said.

A federal judge previously had dismissed charges against all three saying it should be an issue for state court. Attorneys for Captain McKee said  Friday he’d plead not guilty and fight the charges.

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