One year later: Duck boat operator's response to anniversary
BRANSON - One year ago Friday, 17 were killed when a duck boat sank during a thunderstorm on Table Rock Lake. Now the community, tourists and company responsible are looking back.
"It's still on our mind as we're here," tourist Patricia Browne said.
But take a drive down Highway 76 Country Boulevard, and you won't see any signs of the former 'Ride the Ducks' operation. In it's place, you'll find 'Branson Top Ops.' A new family fun center owned by Ripley Entertainment, the same company that owned Ride the Ducks.
"Not a day has passed that we don't think about those who lost their lives and their families," Ripley spokesperson Suzanne Smagala-Potts said in the company's one-year-later statement. "We know we can never fully understand the pain and challenges the families who were affected by the accident have faced."
Tourist Jeremy Smith rode the same duck boats three years before.
"It was a big family deal," Smith said. "About eight or nine of us."
Nine is the same number of family members the Coleman family lost in the 2018 tragedy. They are among multiple families who sued Ripley Entertainment over its role in the incident. One year later, the company has settled with over half of the families.
U.S. Attorneys charged the boat's captain, the Ride the Ducks general manager and the operations manager with 17 felony counts, one for each person who died.
The indictment against captain Kenneth Scott McKee alleged he "failed to raise the side curtains, failed to direct passengers to don their personal floatation devices and failed to prepare to abandon ship after each of two separate soundings of the vessel’s bilge alarms," U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison said.
The company said it will stand by its workers.
"We have and will continue to offer support for all of our employees as this process moves forward," Smagala-Potts said.
While legal battles carry on behind the scenes, the tourist town of Branson continues to thrive through the summer months.
"We just love the area," Browne said. "It's just beautiful. Everything that we've seen here. We've enjoyed it."
But now, one year later, typical tourists like Browne now enter the water with new, not-so-typical thoughts on their minds.
"I'll go out there and probably pray for all those families who are still dealing with that tragedy," Browne said.