Nov. 8 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted the captain of a Missouri duck boat that capsized in July and killed 17 people.
Kenneth Scott McKee, 51, of Verona, Mo., faces 17 counts, one for each victim, of negligence and inattention to his duties while operating the Stretch Duck 7, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Missouri said.
"Our entire community was shocked and saddened by the loss of 17 lives in this tragic event last summer," U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said in a statement. "Today's indictment alleges that the misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty by the ship's captain caused or contributed to the loss of those lives."
Missouri prosecutors said McKee failed to properly assess the lightning and severe weather forecast in the area before driving the duck boat into water July 20. They also said McKee neglected to take precautions to protect the passengers, like instructing passengers to put on floatation devices and preparing to abandon ship once the storm hit.
The indictment said McKee allowed the boat's plastic side curtains to fall and block the exits, trapping the passengers on board. It said his failure to speed up the boat to get to shore also contributed to the passengers' deaths during the capsize on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo.
Tia Coleman survived the ordeal, but her husband, three children and five other relatives died during the incident.
"While nothing can ever ease the grief in my heart, I am grateful that the U.S. Attorney's Office is fighting for justice for my family, and the other victims, and is committed to holding fully accountable all those responsible for this tragedy," she said in a statement to CNN.
McKee is not in custody and Garrison declined to say whether he was cooperating with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
If convicted, McKee could receive a 10 years in federal prison for each count.
"This remains an active and ongoing investigation," Garrison said. "To better enable our office in its urgent pursuit of justice through this investigation, we have requested various courts presiding over the related civil lawsuits to allow our intervention and stay certain manners of discovery to prohibit those lawsuits from impeding or jeopardizing our work. Today's indictment illustrates the urgency our investigative team has shown in its pursuit so as not to unnecessarily burden other legal avenues utilized by victims."