Duck boat tragedy turned over to federal prosecutors

The U.S. Coast Guard has handed over an investigation into the fatal sinking of a Missouri duck boat last month to federal prosecutors, officials said Tuesday.

The case was referred to the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas City on Aug. 13 “to consider a potential criminal investigation and federal prosecution,” the Kansas City Star reported, citing a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

The July 19 tragedy occurred at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., when an amphibious “duck boat” capsized and sank amid strong winds. Of the 31 people aboard the boat, 17 drowned, including five children. Nine of the victims were from the same Indiana family.

A separate criminal investigation has been opened by the Missouri attorney general’s office into possible violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

Ride the Ducks, an attraction owned by Ripley Entertainment, offers duck boat tours that begin in southwestern Branson before entering the lake for an approximate 20-minute excursion.

Ripley is fully cooperating with investigators, a company spokeswoman said.

"Meanwhile, our primary focus remains on doing everything we possibly can to ease the pain of the survivors, their families, and the families of the deceased."

— Ripley Entertainment spokeswoman

"Our primary focus remains on doing everything we possibly can to ease the pain of the survivors, their families, and the families of the deceased," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

That includes paying funeral and medical expenses, she said.

Earlier this month, the Coast Guard made the boat’s certificate of inspection public. It had prohibited it from being on the water when winds exceeded 35 mph and/or wave heights exceeded 2 feet.

The lake was calm when the boat entered, but soon turned violent -- and within minutes the boat sank, video and audio from the boat shows.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said the wind speed at the time of the accident was more than 70 mph, just short of hurricane force. Weather forecasts had warned of an impending storm with winds possibly exceeding 60 mph.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed over the fatal accident, including one by the relatives of those who died, and one rescuer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Robert J. Mongeluzzi, whose Philadelphia-based law firm has filed lawsuits over the accident, said in a statement that those grieving the loss of loved ones "support holding fully accountable those responsible for making the deadly decisions that resulted in the catastrophe."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.