Skip to comments.Duck Boat captain charged with manslaughter
Posted on 11/12/2018 5:11:01 PM PST by Kaslin
This story is a bit down in the weeds, I’ll admit, but it has a bit of an interesting legal twist to it. Back in July, a duck boat sank on Table Rock Lake in Missouri, killing seventeen people, including nine members of a single family. It was a tragedy that made national headlines, but now the matter is making its way through the courts and an obscure law from the 1800s may put the captain of the boat in prison for a very long time. As the Washington Post reported this week, Captain Kenneth Scott McKee is looking at seventeen charges under what’s known as the “Seaman’s Manslaughter Statue” and could get ten years in prison for each one.
The statute that McKee was charged under is known colloquially as seamans manslaughter, and dates back to the era when steamboat disasters were commonplace, killing hundreds of people in fires and boiler explosions. In 1838, Congress passed legislation stating that captains and crew could be held criminally liable if anyone on board died as a result of their misconduct, negligence, or attention to their duties.
Until recently, prosecutions under the Seamans Manslaughter Statute were a rare event, Jeanne Grasso, a partner at Blank Rome LLP who specializes in maritime law, wrote in a 2005 article in Benedicts Maritime Bulletin. From 1848 to 1990, she wrote, there had been only eight major prosecutions under the law. But between 1998 and 2005, the statute was used to prosecute boat captains and crew members in seven major cases.
At first glance, this may sound like a justifiable end to the story. The details of the sinking certainly made it sound as if the captain and crew were culpable. They set sail when terrible weather was clearly in the forecast, with high winds and lightning expected. When the storm struck, the captain failed to speed up and hasten toward shore to get his passengers out of it. When an alarm sounded, indicating that the ship was taking on water, the crew failed to direct them to put on life jackets. There was plenty of fault to be assigned, so why not charge the captain?
While I agree that he’s liable in at least some regards and bears the responsibility for the losses, this was still technically an accident. And in such a case the government generally has to prove negligence. But which kind? Normally, in order to convict someone of a crime equivalent to manslaughter and lock them up, the prosecutors must prove gross negligence. (That’s “a lack of care that demonstrates reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, which is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety.”) But because of this ancient law and the fact that it happened on a ship, the state only has to prove simple negligence. (That would be, “an injury that results from failing to take precautions that differs from negligence that is willful and deliberate.”)
Simply put, and as has already been pointed out by some legal scholars, you can be sent to prison for working on a ship and doing something which would probably only result in a fine if you did the same thing working on a train or a bus. Was the captain in this case grossly negligent? Failing to guess the weather correctly isn’t very easy to pin on him as it was impossible to say precisely how bad the storm would be until it arrived. His failure to speed up when it hit was a poor judgment call to be sure, but did it rise to the level of a reckless disregard for the lives of his passengers and crew? The failure to hand out the life jackets might qualify, but it’s a fine line.
The captain’s attorney has said that he will plead not guilty and fight this in court. But it sounds like unequal treatment under the law if he’s being held to a standard which only applies to sailing vessels and not ground or air transportation. That’s not to say he shouldn’t pay a price for the results of that terrible trip, but should he do more time than someone who murders a person with a gun over an accident? And should such a finding be based on such an archaic law? Stay tuned. We likely won’t know the answer until next year.
All that really matters is cha-ching.
DUKW boats were built with powerful bilge pumps. These get replaced with equipment that can’t keep them afloat.
A law that’s close to 200 years old could be a good candidate for jury nullification.
It all depends on what the prosecutor can prove. A heavy penalty may very well be deserved if the captain wasn’t fully appreciative of his responsibilities to keep passengers safe and was careless about his duties.
Is this a federal case? Is a lake in a state park deemed a navigable waterway?
The captain has full responsibilty for his crew and passengers. If you dont want to support that then dont ever go fishing with me because you’ll think Im and ass hole for taking care of your safety and isisting on my way or the highway. I was a sub sailor and I take boat safety very seriously. And the captian is 100% responsible for his crew and guests. you can delegate authority, you cant delegate responsibilty
IIRC these things aren't being used as they were designed.
It sounds to me like someone saw these 'boats', thought they were cheap, and could be re-purposed.
Cheap initial investment. High payout.
Didnt he go down with the boat?
The work record/history of the captain, the pressure on employees to go whatever the conditions, seaworthyness of the boat, etc etc have to come into this. Ive been in rough water in the Ozarks and else where. Lots to learn here before a verdict can be given. Circumstances are fickle, the Titanic, the Indianapolis, USS Thresher, USS Scorpion, the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the List goes on. The perfect storm or the perfect a??hole or the luck of the draw. Laying blame brings no one back. If negligence is proven, someone should pay. From clear out where I am, I just dont know all the facts. Bless all who sail and those that perish.
Thats reportedly what happened here. KMOX in St Louis reported the original pump, capable of 250 or so gpm, was replaced with two smaller pumps, combined capability of 20-25 gpm. Just one factor in a large bowlful of wrong.
I was working within a mile of the accident on a ridge overlooking Table Rock the day this happened.
This was a particularly nasty storm that came in as fast as any in the Midwest. This was a bad situation due to the intensity and the sudden nature it hit with.
Combine that with the fact that these Duck boats are slow and the way they are built has so much weight that is hanging underneath (very heavy axles, very heavy wheels) of the hull. Imagine a boat with a large fraction of the weight hanging as an anchor under it and you can start to understand.
These things are very slow and lethargic traveling in the water. Add to that the big waves on a very low in the water sitting vessel and you have the perfect conditions for a tragedy.
Every since that day when I drive across the dam I think about those poor people who were just looking to enjoy the day with family and wound up losing there lives. That poor woman that lost so much of her family, I cant begin to imagine her grief.
A Duckboat driver is required to have a 100 ton Master's license.
"Any vessel that is authorized to carry more than six paying passengers must have on board a captain who holds a Master license. Ferry boats, harbor tour boats, whale watching, and water taxis are examples of inspected vessels."
The boats design was to take water and shed it. What was changed, neglected, malfunctioned, or not utilized? Did the captain know of problems? These questions need to be answered. Go for a ride in my boat, I can answer questions about the safety. We dont go until its safe and all questions are answered. The poor folks on that ride probably didnt have a clue, maybe the person driving it didnt either.
What a load of 'nure.
Now, he probably wants to.
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