All criminal charges against three employees involved in a deadly 2018 duck boat accident have been dropped. Kenneth Scott McKee, the captain; Charles Baltzell, the manager on duty; and Curtis Lanham, general manager, had all been charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in the tragedy in Branson, Missouri, that left 17 of the passengers dead. State and local prosecutors, who collaborated on the case, said the employees should not have taken the boat out on Table Rock Lake because a storm was approaching, and that they should have made the passengers wear flotation devices. But in his ruling, the judge said intent needs to be shown to prove the charges, and the prosecutors did not present sufficient evidence that the men acted knowingly or recklessly, the Branson News reports.
"In hindsight, it is evident that the defendants did not have enough weather information to appreciate the threat of high winds," the judge wrote in his ruling, noting that the weather tool they used had not shown the strong winds they ended up encountering, and that they likely believed the boat could avoid the oncoming storm, which was 20 miles behind the unanticipated "gust front" that preceded it. The water was calm when they set out. The judge also found there's no evidence the captain had "an affirmative duty" to require flotation devices be worn, the New York Times reports. The judge dismissed all charges without prejudice, meaning they can be refiled. A spokesperson for the attorney general's office says the office hopes to do just that. Neglect and misconduct charges against the three employees were dismissed in 2020. (Read more Missouri stories.)