A federal grand jury indicted the duck boat captain whose vessel capsized near Branson, Missouri, killing 17 passengers, federal authorities announced on Thursday.
Kenneth Scott McKee, a 51-year-old resident of Verona, Missouri, was charged with 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship's officer, officials said.
"The captain of the vessel always has a duty to operate his vessel in a safe manner and that is why Mr. McKee is under indictment this morning," U.S. Attorney for Western District of Missouri Tim Garrison said in announcing the indictments.
The tragedy unfolded on July 19 when a Ride the Ducks amphibious boat, dubbed "Stretch Duck 7," ventured on to Table Rock Lake during a thunderstorm with 60 mph winds.
The U.S. Coast Guard found probable cause that the accident was caused by "negligence" and "inattention to the duties" by McKee, according to an August court filing.
McKee operated the boat "in violation of the conditions and limitations specified in the vessel's United States Coast Guard issued Certificate of Inspection," according to the indictment.
And specifically, the captain also "failed to properly assess the nature of the severe weather," the indictment said.
Even though other boats were out on the water that stormy day, prosecutors said this boat should not have shoved off.
"Well, different vessels have different ratings for what they are able to withstand," Garrison said. "And we are alleging that Mr. McKee operated this particular vessel under conditions which exceeded those which the vessel was able to withstand."
Tia Coleman survived the tragic accident — but lost husband Glen Coleman, 40, and her children Maxwell Coleman, 2, Evan Coleman, 7, and Reece Coleman, 9. She thanked prosecutors on Thursday.
"While nothing can ever ease the grief in my heart, I am grateful that the U.S. Attorney's Office is fighting for justice for my family, and the other victims, and is committed to holding fully accountable all those responsible for this tragedy," Coleman said in a statement.
Two other children, 1 and 15 years old, died in the accident.
McKee was not taken into custody on Thursday, and defense lawyer James Hobbs said he's arranging for his client to surrender next week.
The defense lawyer declined to comment on the indictment.