‘Let me get to my babies’: Duck boat survivor who lost 9 family members tells story
A new federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday by a survivor of the July 19 duck boat disaster in Missouri that killed 17 accuses the owner of the boat of using a 1940s-era chassis to avoid modern safety standards.
Tia Coleman of Indianapolis, who escaped from the sinking duck boat on Table Rock Lake but lost her husband and children, sued Ripley Entertainment, Ride the Ducks International, Herschend Family Entertainment and others for wrongful death in federal court.
The duck boat with 31 people on board encountered a severe storm and succumbed to winds in excess of 70 miles per hour.
Since then, Ripley Entertainment and others have faced a battery of lawsuits, criminal inquiries and civil investigations. One of the other lawsuits was filed by Coleman’s relatives. Of the 11 family members aboard the boat that day, only Tia Coleman and a 13-year-old nephew survived.
Tia Coleman’s filing contains many of the allegations contained in earlier lawsuits against the companies behind the Branson duck boat operation: The company knew the duck boats were unsafe, they failed to heed recommendations for making them safer and were negligent in carrying out a tour when a severe storm was approaching Table Rock Lake.
Her lawsuit claims that the boat in question, dubbed Stretch Duck 07, was built in 1944 using a 4-ton-truck chassis (the frame vehicles are built upon), which enabled the boat to avoid modern safety and emissions standards.
“I can tell you that they don’t have modern bumpers, they don’t have airbags, they don’t have any modern federally required vehicle safety standards,” said Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia lawyer representing the Colemans in both lawsuits who has sued duck boat operators in the past. “Their response has been, we’re grandfathered in because we’re using 1940s chassis.”
Ripley Entertainment said it could not comment on pending litigation. Herschend Family Entertainment was not immediately available for comment.
The U.S. Coast Guard referred its investigation into the duck boat tragedy to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri for a possible criminal inquiry. The U.S. attorney has since requested that civil lawsuits involving the duck boat disaster delay certain proceedings while it explores whether criminal charges are warranted.
Several lawsuits have been filed over the duck boat incident:
▪ The Missouri attorney general sued Ripley Entertainment for alleged violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, which forbids deception and fraud in the course of selling goods and services.
▪ Relatives of Ervin Coleman and Matthew Ly, who both died on the duck boat, have sued Ripley Entertainment, Herschend Family Entertainment and others for wrongful death. They are seeking $100 million in damages. Coleman was the uncle of Tia Coleman’s husband. Matthew, 2, was a nephew.
▪ The adult daughters of William and Janice Bright, who both died while celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, have sued Ripley Entertainment, Ride the Ducks International and duck boat captain Kenneth McKee. The lawsuit was filed in Taney County.
▪ Gregory Harris, who tried to save victims of the sunken duck boat, sued Ripley Entertainment, Ride the Ducks International and McKee in Taney County, alleging he now suffers from post-traumatic stress and had to quit his job.
▪ Joseph Strecker, son of duck boat victim Rosie Hamann, is suing Ripley Entertainment, Ride the Ducks International, Herschend Family Entertainment and McKee in Stone County.
▪ Jennifer Asher, daughter of duck boat victim Bill Asher, sued Ripley Entertainment in federal court. (Hamann and Asher had been visiting Branson together.)
▪ Amanda Keller, mother of duck boat passenger Gillian Collins, sued Ripley Entertainment in Florida. Gillian and eight relatives aboard the boat all survived.
The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri has asked for a halt in certain court proceedings in the civil cases brought by survivors or families of victims as it evaluates whether to pursue criminal charges.