A CLOSER LOOK: The Duck Boat tragedy and the events that followed


The duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo., is raised Monday, July 23, 2018. The boat went down Thursday evening after a thunderstorm generated near-hurricane strength winds. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP)

BRANSON, Mo. (KFTA) — It has been once year since a thunderstorm and strong winds combined to create powerful waves that caused Ripley Entertainment’s Ride the Ducks Branson duck boat to capsize and sink into Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., killing 17 people.

These are the men, women and children who died in that tragedy:

Angela Coleman, 45, Arya Coleman, 1, Belinda Coleman, 69, Ervin Coleman, 76, Evan Coleman, 7, Glenn Coleman, 40, Horace Coleman, 70, Maxwell Coleman-Ly, 2, Indianapolis, Ind., and Reece Coleman, 9, all of Indianapolis, Ind.; William Asher, 69, of St. Louis, Mo.; Rosemarie Hamann, 68, of St. Louis Mo.; Janice Bright, 63, and William Bright, 65, both of Higginsville, Mo.; Leslie Dennison, 64, Illinois; Bob Williams, 73, Branson; and Steve Smith, 53, and Lance Smith, 15, both of Osceola, Ark.

In the wake of the tragedy, Americans mourned, lawmakers called for investigations to be launched and lawsuits were filed against Ripley Entertainment.

Below is a chronological look back at the day of the tragedy, July 19, 2018, and the events that followed.

July 19, 2018

  • A Ride the Ducks duck boat containing 29 passengers and two crew members enters Table Rock Lake during evening hours. At 7:09 p.m. a 911 call comes into the Stone County Sheriff’s Office reporting that a “duck” tour boat had sank near the Branson Belle and that people were in the water. Law enforcement agencies and emergency responders converge at Table Rock.
  • Western Taney County Fire Dive Team work until 11:30 p.m. searching for survivors and victims.

July 20, 2018

  • Authorities report that 11 people died, 14 survived and six are missing.
  • The Branson City Hall opens for anyone with missing family members.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board makes a public request for photos and videos that would help the board learn what caused the duck boat to capsize.
  • Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader provides timeline of the emergency response to the duck boat capsizing.
  • Authorities report that 13 people died in the tragedy.
  • Missouri Gov. Mike Parson appears on CNN’s ‘New Day.’ Parson says “there are still people in the water.”
  • Jim Pattison Jr., Ripley Entertainment president, provides his understanding of what caused the duck boat to capsize: “My understanding was that when the boat went in the water, it was calm, and partway through coming back is when … the waves picked up and then obviously swamped the boat.”
  • Pattison appears on ‘CBS This Morning’ and says that the duck boat “shouldn’t have been in the water.” Pattison says the duck boats are equipped with life jackets, but passengers are not required to wear them.
  • Duck boat survivors say that the duck boat’s captain told them they would not need to wear a life jacket.
  • A GoFundMe page is set up for duck boat survivor Tia Coleman. Coleman and 10 of her family members were on board the duck boat when it capsized and sank. She and her nephew, 13-year-old Donovan Coleman, were the only member of her family to survive. Tia’s husband, Glenn, and children, Reece, Evan and Arya, were among those who died. The pages goal was to raise $1 million for Tia Coleman. The page ended up raising $762,555.
  • Authorities report a final death toll of 17 victims.

July 21, 2018

Tia Coleman, duck boat tragedy survivor, speaks from her hospital bed. Coleman lost her husband, three children and five other family members to the disaster on Table Rock Lake.
  • Stone County Sheriff’s Office officials release the names, ages and hometowns of the 17 victims.
  • Tia Coleman speaks from her hospital bed. “I couldn’t see anybody. I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t hear screams. It felt like I was out there on my own. And I was yelling, screaming and finally I said ‘Lord, just let me die. Let me die. I can’t keep drowning. I just can’t keep drowning.’ And then I just let go,” Tia says.
  • Several vigils are held at Brookside Church in Branson to honor duck boat tragedy victims and pray for their families and the first responders who tried to rescue to rescue them.
  • Ride the Ducks Branson officials post condolences on Facebook, expressing sadness over the tragedy and saying they will be closed for business to support the investigation and allow time for the families of the victims and community members to grieve.

July 22, 2018

  • National Transportation Safety Board officials announce that they recovered the black box from the sunken duck boat. The black box contained video from the camera on board the sunken boat.
  • College of the Ozarks holds a memorial service for the duck boat victims.

July 23, 2018

  • Steve Paul, owner of Test Drive Technologies, tells CNN that he warned Ripley Entertainment a year before that the duck boats had a design flaw. “If you have the curtains down on the side and obviously you have the canopy on top of it, I think it’s going to make it very difficult for passengers to escape,” Paul says.
  • Ride the Ducks Branson personnel offer to pay all funeral expenses for duck boat tragedy victims and all medical bills for survivors.
  • The Coast Guard oversees efforts to recover the sunken duck boat from Table Rock Lake.
  • A GoFundMe page was started for Pamela and Loren Smith. Pamela is the wife of duck boat victim Steve Smith and the mother of duck boat victim Lance Smith. Loren, Steve’s daughter, was also on the duck boat when it sank. She survived. So far the page has raised $3,650 of a $25,000 goal. The page is still active and you can still donate. Click here to donate.

July 24, 2018

  • Jim Hall, National Transportation Safety Board chairman from 1993 to 2001, calls for the permanent ban of duck boats as amusement rides.

July 25, 2018

  • Toby Hicks, a former duck boat captain, defends duck boats, saying he would still go out on one and take his family along. However, Hicks says that in an emergency situation, the duck boat captain is ultimately responsible for the vessel.

July 26

  • Funeral services are held in Osceola for Steve Smith and his son Lance.

July 27

  • Funeral services are held in Indianapolis for Tia Coleman’s husband Glenn and her three children, Reece, Evan and Arya.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board officials announce that they finished reviewing footage from the Duck Boat Digital Video Record System. In the recordings, the crew was told to take the water portion of the tour first and the captain made a verbal reference to the weather radar.
  • Sgt. Shawn Fields with the Stone County Sheriff’s Office is recognized for his heroism when responding to the duck boat tragedy. Fields was off duty in Branson when he rushed to help duck boat victims. Fields met with Gov. Mike Parson, Missouri First Lady Teresa Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and President Donald Trump.

July 28

  • Funeral services are held for the other five Coleman family members, Angela, Belinda, Ervin and Horace Coleman and Maxwell Coleman-Ly, who died when the duck boat sank.

July 30, 2018

  • Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley confirms that he has opened a criminal investigation into Ride the Ducks Branson. The investigation was opened under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.
  • A Philadelphia-based law firm representing the family of Ervin Coleman and Maxwell Coleman-Ly files a lawsuit demanding $100 million against Ripley Entertainment. The lawsuit alleges the tour boat company committed two counts of negligence, two counts of infliction of emotional distress, two counts of wrongful death, and one count of strict product liability, outrageous conduct, and finally the violation of Missouri’s merchandising practices act. The Coleman family seeks to shut down the operation of an industry they say knowingly produced boats that would trap its passengers, even if they were wearing a life jacket. “With this lawsuit, we hope we will drive the death trap duck boats out of business,” attorney Robert Mongeluzzi says. “Because of the canopies you are dead if you do, you are dead if you don’t. You drowned if you do. You drowned if you don’t.”
  • Another lawsuit, this one on behalf of the daughters of Janice and William Bright, is filed against Ripley Entertainment.

July 31, 2018

  • Coleman family members band together to express support for $100 million lawsuit against Ripley Entertainment.
  • The Coast Guard launches a Commandant-directed Marine Board Investigation into the duck boat sinking. The Coast Guard’s five-person board of inquiry will look for the factors that contributed to the sinking.
  • Missouri Senator Clair McCaskill introduces new legislation Tuesday to improve the safety of duck boats, mandating recommendations originally proposed by federal safety investigators.

Aug. 2, 2018

  • A report is released on a Coast Guard inspection which detailed a wind limit that was set for the Duck Boats and other vessels on Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo. The inspection says, “Vessel shall not be operated waterborne when winds exceed thirty-five (35) miles per hour, and/or the wave height exceeds two (2) feet.” At the time of the incident wind speeds on Table Rock Lake were up to 60-65 miles per hour.
  • Missouri State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick (R) says writing legislation intended to avoid future deaths on duck boat tours should wait. Fitzpatrick says enough facts have been issued yet to responsibly write such legislation.

Aug. 7, 2018

Duck Boat Photo_1558039242370.jpg.jpg
  • The National Transportation Safety Board releases a preliminary report on their findings from the duck boat sinking investigation. Click here for the full report.

Aug. 17, 2018

  • Lawyers on behalf of Greg Harris files a lawsuit against Ripley Entertainment, Ride the Ducks Branson and the duck boat captain. Harris, who was working on the Branson Belle when the duck boat sank, pulled five people out of the water, including a child who died. The lawsuit claims Harris suffered emotional distress and physical injury as a result of his experience.

Aug. 22, 2018

  • Jennifer Asher, daughter of 69-year-old duck boat victim William Asher, files lawsuit against Ripley Entertainment seeking $75,000 in damages.

Aug. 29, 2018

  • The federal government files motions in federal court asking a judge for an order that would allow the United States to intervene in the civil actions filed by survivors of those killed in the sinking “to stay discovery until completion of criminal proceedings” in the case. Federal investigators are preparing a criminal case against Ripley Entertainment.

Aug. 31, 2018

  • Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley filed a petition Friday urging Taney County Circuit Court to not allow Branson Duck Vehicles and Ripley Entertainment to operate in the state.

Sept. 4, 2018

  • Tia Coleman, who survived the duck boat sinking, but lost her husband and three children in the tragedy, files a lawsuit against Ripley Entertainment. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Kansas City. Coleman’s main goal is to ban Duck Boats. The complaint she filed says the Duck Boat industry should cease operations until Duck Boats are made unsinkable and their canopies are removed.

Sept. 6, 2018

  • Eight family members who survived the duck boat sinking file a lawsuit against Ripley Entertainment. The lawsuit was filed in Kansas City on behalf of Ronita McKinley and her daughter, Tiffany Collins, both of Carlsbad, New Mexico; another daughter, Tomlyn McDonald, of Midland, Texas; and their families.

Sept. 11, 2018

  • The owners of Ripley Entertainment and Branson Duck Vehicles blast Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s consumer-fraud lawsuit against them, saying it’s “littered with factual inaccuracies and innuendo.”

Oct. 2, 2018

  • The owners of Ripley Entertainment seek to dismiss several claims in lawsuits against them.

Oct. 17, 2018

  • Ripley Entertainment invokes 1851 law to avoid responsibility for Duck Boat accident. Federal court documents show the company asked a federal court to consolidate civil actions against them and to rule they have little or no liability. Tia Coleman, who lost nine family members in the accident, says the filing is hurtful and insensitive.

Nov. 8, 2018

  • A federal grand jury indicts duck boat captain Kenneth Scott McKee. McKee, 51, is charged with misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship’s officer, resulting in the death of another person in the 17 count indictment.

Nov. 24, 2018

  • Ripley Entertainment setters lawsuit with the three daughters of William and Janice Bright.

Jan. 23, 2019

  • A federal prosecutor said in a court filing that “several” employees, agents or officers of Ripley Entertainment are targets and/or subjects of a criminal investigation in the duck boat disaster.

March 12, 2019

  • Ripley Entertainment settles lawsuit filed by relatives of Ervin and Horace Coleman.

March 22, 2019

  • Ripley Entertainment personnel announce Ride the Ducks will be replaced by a new attraction called Branson Top Ops, which is described as a patriotic themed experience offering an interactive outdoor maze, indoor laser tag and other adventures.

May 8, 2019

  • Stacy Roberts, who owns DUKW Arkansas, LLC, announces that on April 23 his Hot Springs company purchased the remaining 18 duck boats from Ride the Ducks International.

May 11, 2019

  • Ripley Entertainment representatives dispute Steve Paul’s claim that he told the company that the duck boats were not safe. Ripley purchased 22 duck boats from Ride the Ducks, and Paul inspected the duck boats prior to the purchase. Paul said he found that all of the duck boats were deficient under the Department of Transportation’s standards because of the location of their tailpipes. Ripley representatives said Paul passed the duck boats in his report.

May 16, 2019

  • Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt says his office will temporarily halt state proceedings against Ripley Entertainment. Schmitt says an agreement signed between his office and Branson Duck Vehicles, which Ripley owns, requires the company to give the state a 90-day notice if it intends to operate the boats after this year. If that happens, the state’s investigation would resume.

June 20, 2019

  • Curtis Lanham, the former general manager of Ride the Ducks Branson, and Charles Baltzell, the former operations supervisor, have both been indicted on 17 counts of misconduct and neglect.

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