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Duck boat survivor Tia Coleman asks for justice after charges against company's employees are dropped

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Posted at 11:37 AM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 11:37:48-05

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis woman who lost her husband and three children when a duck boat sank in a Missouri lake in 2018 said she "prays for justice" after criminal charges against the boat's captain and two other employees were dismissed.

In a statement released by her attorneys, Tia Coleman said she would continue her fight for justice and thanked the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri for attempting to prosecute the employees of the duck boat company. She also urged the Missouri State Attorney General to pursue criminal charges in the case.

Seventeen people, including nine members of Coleman's family, died July 19, 2018 when the land-water craft in which they were riding sank during a storm on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. Coleman and her then-13-year-old nephew, Donovan, were the only members of her family who survived. The boat had entered the lake despite severe weather warnings.

“What does it say about us as a society if those who put profits over passenger safety can get away with their criminal acts? And what does it say if our Congress between now and year’s end cannot find it in its heart to pass the pending, non-partisan duck boat safety act that can prevent the loss of more innocent lives?” Coleman said.

RELATED | Judge dismisses criminal counts in Missouri duck boat deaths

Kenneth Scott McKee, of Verona, Missouri, the captain of the duck boat; Curtis Lanham, of Galena, Missouri, the general manager of the boat’s operator, Ride the Ducks Branson; and Charles Baltzell, of Kirbyville, Missouri, the manager on duty that day, were charged with neglect and misconduct. McKee also was charged with failure to properly assess the weather before launching the boat and not telling passengers to use flotation devices.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush ruled in September that the federal government does not have jurisdiction because Table Rock Lake is not considered a navigable waterway, which means it doesn’t support commerce. U.S. District Judge Doug Harpool filed an order Dec. 2 upholding the recommendation and dismissing the charges.

“Tia Coleman still mourns the loss of her beloved husband, Glenn, and their babies; Arya Coleman,1; Evan, 7, and Reece, 9,” said Robert J. Mongeluzzi, one of Coleman's attorneys. “While we respect the federal Court’s reasoning, we urge the Missouri Attorney General to pursue state criminal charges for the outrageous conduct that took Tia Coleman’s beautiful family from her.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

RELATED | 9 members of an Indianapolis family among victims of Missouri duck boat accident | Coast Guard finds probable cause Missouri duck boat sunk because of captain's negligence | Tia Coleman: Duck boat survivor's 'new normal' | Duck boat survivor Tia Coleman reflects as 1-year mark of sinking nears