Following a coroner’s inquest Thursday, a jury has ruled the drowning death of an Iowa man to be accidental after he fell overboard while in Missouri State Highway Patrol custody.
This happened at around 5 p.m. on May 31 at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Twenty-year-old Brandon Ellingson from Clive, Iowa, went overboard while wearing handcuffs in the Highway Patrol Boat.
Evidence revealed at a coroner’s inquest Thursday showed Ellingson had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of his death.
Ellingson was being transported on suspicion of boating while intoxicated.
Following the recommendation by the jury, Ellingson’s father, Craig Ellingson, told ABC 17 News, “I was really disappointed at the outcome just based on the pure fact that he handcuffed him first and then put a life jacket over the top of him, that’s negligence.”
Ellingson’s friends on the boat at the time he was arrested said they saw Trooper Anthony Piercy handcuff Ellingson and then pull over his head an already buckled type III vest.
Piercy admitted to the jury he did not know the difference between the three types of vests he could have used.
He also did not know there was a crotch strap on the vest he used on Ellingson.
“He didn’t even know there was swift-water crotch strap on this particular life vest. He said it’s good enough for me if its assigned to us. If he would have just had the life vest on, he (Piercy) could have dove in while Brandon was on the surface of the water. He knew Brandon was handcuffed, and he wasn’t at risk like all the training is that the person is going to pull you under.” said Matt Boles, lawyer for the Ellingson family.
Criag Ellingson told ABC 17 News if Piercy would have snapped the crotch strap on his son, he would still be here today.
Highway Patrol policy states a type I or II vests should be used on a handcuffed subject.
Piercy said in his overall five weeks of boat and marine training he was never taught the difference between the life vests, let alone how to put one on a handcuffed subject.
He also admitted his training never taught him how to save someone if they fell overboard.
“I think the one thing that came out of this needs to be more training and they’ve learned from this whole experience,” said M.B. Jones the Morgan county coroner.
All patrol boats are equipped with cameras.
On Thursday, Piercy said after his first stop that Saturday in May he realized his SD cards were not in the cameras.
While there were witnesses on the lake to Ellingson’s arrest and drowning, what is unclear is what caused Ellingson to fall into the water.
Piercy said Ellingson was cooperative the entire time while on the boat with him.
Piercy said he was going over a wave and in his peripheral vision saw Ellingson stand, and before he could tell him to sit down Piercy said Ellingson was going off the right edge of the boat.
Ellingson was sitting in the co-captain chair to the right of Piercy.
Their shoulders were touching according to the trooper.
Piercy said he had to turn the boat sharply and quickly when he saw Ellingson fall off because he was afraid he was going to hit the motors.
He cut the engine while the boat was in gear, causing the boat to lock up when he tried to turn the engine back on.
It took him time to get the boat back on after realizing it needed to be in neutral to re-start the boat.
He then got close enough to Ellingson who he says was still in his life vest at this point but struggling to stay a float.
Piercy reached out a pole with a hook at the end. He said he was trying to hook his arm to get him back to the surface.
After several failed attempts, Ellingson started to go under the surface of the water.
That is when Piercy said he dove in without inflating his life vest because he knew he had to go under to get Ellingson.
He said he had a hold on him, but then could not get the two of them to the surface.
During this time he said he could not get his life vest that looked like a fanny pack around his waist to deploy while holding Ellingson.
Piercy said after several seconds and only being able to get Ellingson to the surface, he let go of him to find his life vest strap.
Once he found it, he reached back for Ellingson who at this point was too far under.
Jim Bascue was driving a water taxi when he saw the Patrol boat trying to rescue Ellingson.
Bascue tried throwing a buoy to Ellingson.
After a while, Bascue said his life vest came off.
That is when the trooper jumped into the water to save him.
“After the subject fell into the lake, the trooper first tried to retrieve him, and then actually go into the water to rescue him, and wasn’t able to do so,” Reinsch said.
Bascue ended up having to save Piercy by pulling him back onto his patrol boat.
On Thursday Bascue described Piercy as shocked and completely exhausted after trying to save Ellingson.
Ellingson’s body was found a day later in the Gravois Arm at the 3.5 mile marker of the main channel.
“It’s hard to have trust in your highway patrol when they outright murdered my son,” said Craig Ellingson.
The Associated Press reports Ellingson was attending Arizona State University. According to the school’s online directory, he was enrolled as a business student.
“He was a great kid. He was going to go to Europe and study abroad this semester. He was going to eventually take over my business,” said Craig Ellingson.