Missouri Duck Boat Tragedy: Criminal Intent Possible In Sinking

Federal authorities are investigating if criminal intent was the cause of the Branson duck boat sinking that killed 17 people in Missouri on July 19.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) found evidence during their investigation of the duck boat that sank on Table Rock Lake that suggested there may have been criminal activity, according to the Kansas City Star. USCG spokeswoman Alana Miller said the USCG was "not in the business of criminal investigations," and handed the case over to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri on August 13.

The USCG was unable to provide more information on what the potential criminal activity could have been but did confirm the USCG Investigative Service Division consulted with their company's legal department before referring the case to federal officials.

This new investigation was launched amid multiple lawsuits filed by a rescuer, the survivors and some of the victim's families. One of the lawsuits is in state court. Located in Kansas City, the U.S. Attorney's Office includes the Table Rock Lake area where the boat sank. An additional lawsuit was filed July 29 in federal court and alleges the companies ran the boat tour without following a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board. A suggestion to fix the canopies was made 16 years prior that could have potentially made the duck boats safer. The U.S. Attorney's Office is also conducting their own investigation.

The federal lawsuit also alleged the boat went out onto the water with full knowledge of an impending storm, and needlessly endangered the lives of people in the process. That evening, the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning describing 60 mph winds for the area at 6:32 p.m. The vessel, known as Stretch Duck 07, reportedly entered the water at 6:55 p.m. The first 911 call about the boat came at 7:09 p.m.

The federal lawsuit named Ripley Entertainment Inc., Ride the Ducks of Branson, Ride the Ducks International, Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing and Herschend Family Entertainment Group as responsible parties. The 31 passengers on the boat included people from Illinois, Arkansas, and Missouri. Nine of the 17 people who died were members of the Coleman family. The victims ranged between one and 76 years old. They included veterans, parents, children and retired educators. Ervin Coleman, 76, was the one to file the federal lawsuit.

The most recent lawsuit was filed on Monday by the daughter of victim William Raymond "Bill" Asher. She filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Springfield, Montana. Bill Asher, 69, and his girlfriend, Rose Hamann, 68, were among those who died, according to a the Saint Louis Dispatch

Duck Boat
A group of mourners pause for a moment of prayer and remembrance of the victims of the Ride The Ducks accident at Ride The Ducks Tours in Branson, Missouri. The USGS referred the case of the incident to federal officials. Michael Thomas/Getty Images