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Duck boat survivor Tia Coleman reflects as 1-year mark of sinking nears

Duck boat survivor: 'My husband's attempt to save my children will keep me fighting'
Posted at 6:46 PM, Jul 16, 2019
and last updated 2021-10-26 12:44:30-04

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis woman who lost her husband and three children when a duck boat sank in a Missouri lake one year ago this week said "the crippling pain of loss continues every day."

In a statement released by her attorneys, Tia Coleman said this week is a time for reflection and remembrance of her family and the other victims who lost their lives when the duck boat they were riding in sank during a storm on July 19, 2018 near Branson, Mo. Seventeen people, including nine members of Coleman's family, died in the sinking.

Coleman and her then-13-year-old nephew, Donovan, were the only members of her family who survived.

“I draw hope and energy from their memory to fight to ban dangerous, death trap duck boats like the one that killed my family and the others," Coleman said. "I am grateful for the efforts of prosecutors as they work to hold all those responsible for this crime accountable. And I am thankful to our Congressman Andre Carson for joining us in calling on Congress to stop duck-boat deaths in the water and on land."

Carson introduced legislation late last year aimed at improving duck boat safety.

"We know from past incidents that more can be done to make these vessels safe. We owe it to passengers everywhere to learn from this tragedy and take action now,” Carson said in December.

Coleman expressed disappointment that members of the Coast Guard have met with the duck boat industry, their insurers and members of the Passenger Vessel Association, a trade group that lobbies in favor of duck boats.

"However, the Coast Guard has not met with me and the other victims of this disaster to hear what we have to say and understand what we have lost," she said. "I am urging the Coast Guard to meet with me and other victims so we can discuss why we want these duck boats banned, so no other family will suffer the losses that we have.”

RELATED | Tia Coleman: Duck boat survivor's 'new normal'

Coleman, who was riding on the boat with 10 members of her family when it sank, created an online petition titled "Ban The Duck Boats" to urge Congress to take action against the industry. The statement said nearly 8,000 people have signed the petition.

Coleman also filed a federal lawsuit last year asking that the owners of the amphibious vehicles stop manufacturing or operating them in the U.S. and other countries until they are redesigned to be safe.

One of Coleman's attorneys, Robert J. Mongeluzzi, said Ripley Entertainment Inc., the Florida-based company that operates Branson Duck Vehicles, is only adding to Coleman's pain.

“Tia Coleman, is an incredibly courageous individual and has become the leader to ban death trap duck boats so that no other family has to endure the grievous loss that she has suffered at the hands of the duck-boat industry," Mongeluzzi said. "The most recent federal criminal indictment issued by the grand jury notes that on the day of the disaster Ripley’s operations manager was counting cash and receipts rather than monitoring the weather and safeguarding their passengers.

"This is just one of the outrageous acts detailed in the indictment. Ripley’s latest onslaught of public relations propaganda has only magnified, not lessened, Tia Coleman’s devastating loss.”